In his seminal American Renaissance, Frances Otto Matthiessen points to the development by Nathaniel Hawthorne of tragic elements of character, noting his exploration of the “subterranean history of the American individual” (180). The aesthetically-minded characters presented by Hawthorne are most keenly attuned to the numinous aspects of humanity’s nature, frequently presented with an ability to perceive the transcendent over the earthly. Hawthorne’s artist figures, although undoubtedly endowed with tragic characteristics, are spurred in their endeavours through their differentiation from others, particularly those associated with communal or collective values. This study wishes to challenge the solely aesthetic viewpoint from which criticism often reflects upon Hawthorne’s artistic figures, looking to embed them within a cultural, political, and economic nexus that better explains their (and their author’s) creative impulses. This is particularly notable due to the contemporary context of burgeoning American capitalism and to the artist’s perceived unpatriotic actions in being unable to contribute materially to the enterprise of the American nation.

The imperfections of Hawthorne’s artists lie as much in their realisation of the unbridgeable gap between themselves and the often metonymic or anonymised mass as it does in their tragic reflection on man’s shortcomings. This analysis will draw out the presence of individualistic tendencies in the figures of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s artistic figures Owen Warland, from “The Artist of the Beautiful,” and the titular character of the novel Fanshawe, whose respective self-concern abrogates communal responsibility but does not necessarily endanger the fabric of their societies. In “The Artist of the Beautiful,” Owen Warland is the titular creator who rejects his work as a watch-maker, and by extension, his connection to the community, to create a mechanical butterfly. His former love, Annie Hovenden, marries the local blacksmith, a man inextricably connected with the town’s economy and the ideas of progress bound to his working life. In Fanshawe’s case, his isolation is connected to his life in secluded Bowdoin College. The narrative charts Fanshawe’s bildung, as he leaves his seclusion to engage with “the magnetic chain of humanity.”

The prevailing nature of isolation in these stories is important in terms of the creation of an aesthetic in which artists legitimise their pursuits in the public sphere. Working in secret was considered a dangerous pursuit for individuals throughout this stage of America’s development in the mid-nineteenth century, associated with underhanded, potentially criminal, endeavour (Pessen 262). The need for the self-made man to provide public proof of both his individualistic traits and nationalist pride became a matter of social and political importance during the era J. Gerald Kennedy has controversially labelled “The Age of Poe.” To dwell on this title a moment, we might take our lead from Kennedy’s suggestion that the formative socio-political milieu of the 1830s and 1840s was the site of tension and self-formation that the aesthetic analysis of American Renaissance often overlooks or subsumes into pure textual criticism. This examination of two of Hawthorne’s narratives will look to draw on the increasing emphasis given to a dynamic conception of periodicity during the so-called American Renaissance, with a deeper focus emphasising the larger contextual influences that inspired this fiction.

The presence of the “dangerous soul” in Hawthorne’s oeuvre surrounding artistic figures holds an epiphanic structure that has been, only recently, suggested in critical analysis of the tales. The “dangerous soul” is a central term of Hawthorne’s artistic impulse, describing that state of mind that focuses on artistic production to the detriment of personal concerns and, more importantly, with the relegation of a wider social outlook beneath individual destiny and moral worth. The “danger” inherent in this representation, moreover, is linked to the clear connections drawn throughout this era to the fate of the citizen and the interconnected destiny of the nation. The individual American who reneges on his/her nationalist duties was, in Democratic rhetoric, connected to the old, aristocratic failures of Europe. This suggested that the European yeoman was not allowed to take pride in his country, subordinated to the status of subject, under the arbitrary will of an isolated government or king. Furthermore, in literature of the time, the negative connotations associated with men who did not make their living from “the sweat of their brow” were largely due to the fact that their work provided little material evidence for nation-building.

Hawthorne’s presumed fears that the artist would, so long as he remained an artist, be lost to the greater efforts of society, take on a falsely damnatory tone when viewed in conjunction with the epiphany-driven structure of many of his tales, or the need to perceive his artists as unavoidably individualistic but not irredeemably selfish (Johnson 42). The inability to communicate their art is something Hawthorne dwells upon, but the effort to inform the common man is simultaneously shown. The artist’s individualism might be “dangerous,” but the nature of this danger is indelibly two-sided: this is, inseparably, a two-sided relationship. The hazardous nature of his solitude and secrecy, particularly in Jacksonian America, must be balanced with the dismissal by the ordinary American of the power of art. [1] The Hawthorne who created the cold-hearted “painter, or wizard” of “The Prophetic Pictures” (1837) (IX: 167), indicative of a lack of control over a personal marketplace, is the self-same author that contacts John Frost, assistant editor at the influential Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, in March 1844 as a consideration of best practice “to extend and vary his audience as much as possible” (Myerson 113). The question of the “personal marketplace” is crucial to our understanding of the writer’s relationship to his political milieu.

In correspondence with his wife Sophia (née Peabody) in January 1842, Hawthorne reflects on his self-christened “dangerous soul” in a vivacious, positive tone: “Here is thy husband in his old chamber, where he produced those stupendous works of fiction, which have since impressed the Universe with wonderment and awe” (XV: 99). Hawthorne’s reflections on the creative process and the final product of art meditates on the much-maligned “dangerous soul” from various aspects, particularly its individualist implications within the context of contemporary American society.

Despite its negative associations, however, Hawthorne’s use of this “haunted” imagination draws on a multitude of sources, past and present, in its creation of an aesthetic that transposes the individualist ethic into its fictive representation. The aestheticising of a perceived American “ethic” of patriotism that ran the gamut of Jacksonian democracy’s admiration for the hard-working man allowed writers and artists of the era to inhabit spheres previously reserved for those directly connected with economic production. As aforementioned, the cultural work of artists (including, but not reserved to, actors, writers, and painters) was deemed unsuitable to the more material requirements of a growing economy. As notice of this, campaign songs during the 1828 elections pitted “the man who could fight,” Andrew Jackson, against the man “who could write,” John Quincy Adams (Farris 158). Subsequently, the artist or the actor could justifiably be cited as individualistic, their work allowed to advocate the centrality of the individual in the larger project of American society.

As opposed to previous incarnations of the masculine individualism that pervaded America during Jackson’s presidential term of office and its immediate aftermath, the version that had developed throughout Hawthorne’s adulthood came to embrace vast swathes of what the writer’s ancestors dismissed in “The Custom House”: “A writer of story-books! What kind of a business in life, – what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in this day and generation, – may that be? Why the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!” (I: 10). As Jeffrey Sklansky and Bruce McConachie have identified respectively, the possibilities for the actor, journalist or author in this period extended to spheres previously reserved for the masculine ideals of the Jacksonian “people.” As McConachie attests, star performers of the Jacksonian era were seen as “entrepreneurs of their own careers who avoided the hierarchical restraints of local acting companies” (3). The world of entertainment, and art by extension, in this period of intensive capitalist expansion, was pervasively commodified. The performer who wanted to succeed needed to transcend previous boundaries and define himself in an individualistic, democratic mode, presenting an aesthetic of patriotism and self-definition that appealed to the larger Jacksonian ideals of the time. Hawthorne’s use of the “dangerous soul” is a similar manoeuvre, acting as a defining aesthetic that separates the writer from his contemporaries in an abstract self-identification, one that emphasises the isolating qualities of artistic talent. Interestingly, this allows Hawthorne to elucidate their qualities as individualists, presenting them within their democratic milieu, but separating those characteristics extolled in political rhetoric as typically “American.”

To declare, therefore, Hawthorne’s description of the “dangerous soul” as purely negative is presumptuous and chooses to ignore the possible outcomes of assuming the position associated with the “haunted mind,” i.e. indulged in the solitary creative process amidst the burgeoning market of this era’s American society. Throughout his career, Hawthorne fought with feelings of invalidity relating to his art in the surrounds of an increasingly capitalistic, market-focused society. In a letter to Sophia dated April 15th, 1840, Hawthorne spends the first page “declaiming” the “art of writing” (XV: 75). James Mancall has identified this as Hawthorne’s struggling with the idea that the author was an ambiguous, “paradoxical figure with both effeminate debility and virulent power” (1). This psychological dialectic, when placed against a backdrop of the individualist ethic and the Jacksonian formulation of the “self-made man,” suggests the difficulty of the artist’s inner struggle but should not be seen as indicative of an inability to deal with the socio-political machinations of contemporary America. Hawthorne’s (or his artist’s) physical isolation is not a divorce from the realities of the day. From the era’s unstable economic climate, the anonymity of the “machine-like” (Myerson 60) workers, and the rise of the “man of business” as the ideal representative of the country’s burgeoning capitalism, Hawthorne’s fears do not indicate an author averse to the social questions of his day but one whose engagement with the period’s individualist ethic took a varied approach throughout his work.

Hawthorne’s worries about the healthy state of the writer or artist in the aggressive marketplace must be viewed in conjunction with his respect and admiration for Andrew Jackson, the President he described in a letter as “one of the greatest men we ever had” (XVI: 6). The expansion of the possibilities of individualism in this era to all “the People” is something that, in his seemingly anti-Romantic negativity, Hawthorne engages in as much as Emerson or Channing but with a number of crucial differences. Despite his shrewd prefaces to Mosses from an Old Manse and The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne was “the only New England man of letters who was also an active Democrat” (Miller 114). Yet, even still, the myth of his being hermetically sealed from his era is a popular one (Arvin 14). He may not have held aspirations for self-reliance in the same manner as his Transcendentalist contemporaries, nor expressly referred to the era as that “of the individual,” but his social commentary inevitably brought him to interrogate the possibilities of the individualist ethic that formed the ideological core of his society, as expressed in the age’s political rhetoric (Krohn 47). The “glass darkly” through which Hawthorne sees the world does not preclude a view of individualism but represents a deeper investigation of its possibilities.

Owen Warland is, perhaps, the apotheosis of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s illustration of a “haunted mind.” Feeble, retiring, and apparently lacking courage, Owen wishes to be left to tinker with watch-parts rather than engage with the demands of the economic market represented by the town in which he lives. His harshest critic, the retired watchmaker Peter Hovenden, is the antithesis of Owen’s endeavours. From the outset, Hawthorne stages the characters of “The Artist of the Beautiful” to represent various aspects of American society and his personal life. The quietly subversive artist, who refuses to work properly for the community, places his own aims and hopes above that of the collective. Against him stand the men of everyday economics, craftsmen who work towards a communal good, disdaining the ingenuity of a man who creates timeless beauty rather than timed utility.

If Owen is Hawthorne’s “archetypal artist of the fancy” (Jacobson 26), his role still allows for political involvement. His intent must not be confused with the tale’s representations of modernity and its deeply reflective social commentary. The destruction of the “beautiful” by the Danforths’ child (the signifier of the next generation and oncoming industrialisation) can be read as an indication of the advancing marketplace and the artist/scholar’s vulnerability in the face of that advance (Mancall 19). This reading is limited in its portrayal of the true import of the individualist ethic, as instigated and developed in Jacksonian America, but suggests the metonymic significance of Peter Hovenden and Robert Danforth for the market and capitalist forces of modernity. Lines such as “one pinch of my finger and thumb (and) I am going to deliver you from all future peril” (Hawthorne, X: 165) indicate the potential for the artist’s idealistic produce to be riven apart by market forces with ease. The production of goods, a tangible indicator for the Jacksonian of the “people,” is taken from Owen by a portent of the burgeoning capitalist system. By looking at the nuance of this story, however, a different interpretation can be gleaned from the modern qualities and individualistic impulses displayed by Hawthorne.

Despite his lack of engagement with society and the common mass of man, Warland, in his choice of career and decision to produce the titular “beautiful,” maintains a deeply individualistic stance, one that can be seen as truly modern in the context of Hawthorne’s era. It is his later workings in secret that problematise this status and jeopardise his bond with his fellow man. Warland’s ideas, annihilated in their exposure to the practical, rely on his own defence against mankind, in order that he “be his own sole disciple” (X: 164). The importance of this cannot be underestimated; just as the individual may become a self-made man in the arena of capitalist economics, politics or social matters, so can the artist in his isolation from these spheres. His work in secret may turn from the central tenets of Jacksonian democracy, but his self-reliant beliefs are inherently individualistic, working within the expanded understanding of individualism in the Jacksonian era, while simultaneously extending the parameters previously indicated by masculine ideals (Kimmel 14).

This story, as is often the case with Hawthorne’s ambiguous tone and content, provides a view of modernity from various, conflicting aspects. Warland is set in direct opposition to Hovenden and the Danforths. The latter’s practicality and misunderstanding of Owen’s work, along with their presentation as economy-focused people with traditional, community-based values, suggest the strong collective identity they hold. Their work is collectively-focused, emphasising the utility and practicality seen as the duty of the true Jacksonian American citizen. Owen, on the other hand, is almost entirely isolated from the people around him, largely eschewing company to work on his artistic inventions. He is the isolated individualist feared by Jacksonians as the dangerous man of unbounded self-reliance, “insulated from the common business of life,” experiencing the “sensation of moral cold that makes the spirit shiver” (Jacobson 26). This story can thus represent two distinct aspects of the Jacksonian era’s ambivalence towards cultural productivity. As stated by Glyndon von Deusen: “(a)long with this search for freedom, Americans found some time for cultivation of the more aesthetic side of life… By and large, however, this Jacksonian era had little time for the cultural side of life. It was mainly absorbed in the pursuit of material gain” (2). On one side of this sociological divide, the collective is represented as machine-like, unable to enjoy the world without the oppressive systems of authority and time: “that steady and matter-of-fact class of people who hold the opinion that time is not to be trifled with, whether considered as the medium of advancement and prosperity in this world or preparation for the next” (Hawthorne, X: 162). These people, often homogenised by Hawthorne, are focused on material development and the improvement of conditions within the community based on the burgeoning ideals of capitalist America (Kohl 4). Warland, contrastingly, is self-absorbed in his own purpose, ignoring the exterior demands of the economy in order to fulfil his individual project. Both aspects of this story describe metonymically the dangers of the Jacksonian individualist ethic, with specific relation to its place within civilised society. This indicated a natural tendency to unite with one’s peers without publicly expressing individuality, submerging the wishes of the characters within the will of the collective. The other, represented by Owen, is overly individualistic and shows the “dangerous soul” at work in isolation, above the conception of the masses.

The artist’s transcendence of his situation by story’s end reasserts his separation from the metonymic Hovenden, his daughter, and the excessively masculine Danforth. We are told that the townspeople, when viewing Warland’s secretive work, “had one comprehensive explanation of all these irregularities” (X: 169). Furthermore, we discover that the fragile Owen was once “one of the household,” literally of the community before his artistic inclination set him on a different path. That the tale finishes with a creation beyond the understanding of the mundane, practical characters is a logical conclusion but one deeply significant for this story’s comment on individualism.

Warland separates himself from the other townspeople in his artistic pursuits. There is another side to this withdrawal however, where Hawthorne comments upon the nature of such separation from humanity. For the artist under the conditions of Jacksonian economics and the market revolution, the idea of individual pursuit was necessitated by the non-collaborative nature of the artistic process. Hawthorne would return to this contemplation in “Drowne’s Wooden Image” and “The Prophetic Pictures.” If, however, as Steven Lukes points out, “it was in America that ‘individualism’ came to celebrate capitalism” (26), how can this be reconciled with the figure of Warland? Hawthorne’s artist does not celebrate the ideals of individualism as laid out by Jacksonian political commentators, or later those critics who pointed to the rapid, feverish pace of growth in business during this time (von Deusen 12). The financial speculation seemingly deplored by the upstanding Democrat could not have been more effectively promoted by Jacksonian policies had that been the president’s purpose in office (Temin 102). Owen’s seemingly apathetic withdrawal from the world contrasts sharply with the blacksmith Danforth and the watchmaker Hovenden, definitive craftsmen who embody the nascent spirit of acquisitive capitalism. Hawthorne creates this dichotomy in order to compare the social outlooks of two of his most oft-visited groupings, namely artists and craftsmen. Both sides are incomplete in the machinations of Jacksonian individualism. The former is individualistic in his isolated endeavour, placing the moral worth of his ethereal workings above the practical, economic importance of something as fundamental as knowing the time. It is the very knowledge of this secret work, however, that Hawthorne includes as the anti-social, anti-democratic nature of the artist. On the other hand, the collectivist, traditional tendencies of the craftsmen suggest that, somewhat ironically, despite their need to have the correct time for their money-making businesses, they are out-of-joint with the era. Ultimately, their anachronistic values will not fit in with the individualistic ethic of the time to come. They are radically out of step with the rising tide of self-reliance, as discussed in Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville:

…(Americans) accept tradition only as a means of information, and existing facts only as a lesson to be used in doing otherwise and doing better; to seek the reason of things for oneself, and in oneself alone; to tend to results without being bound to means, and to strike the form to the substance – such are the principal characteristics of what I shall call the philosophical method of the Americans. (3)

“The Artist of the Beautiful,” in its representation of the collectivist and individualist aspects of American life, suggests various ways in which the artist can temper his stance without compromising his art, but interestingly, it maintains a level of separation between art and common comprehension. This story works to re-affirm what Hawthorne wrote in a letter to Sophia, dated 24th July, 1839, regarding the quotidian rhythm of work outside the artistic sphere. It becomes clear that in working like “a machine,” Hawthorne separates himself from an “enjoyment (that) was not all finite”; “my intellect, and my heart and soul, have no share in my present mode of life—they find neither labor nor food in it” (Myerson 60).

This is symptomatic of the “germ for immortality” present in Owen Warland. Although for his own wellbeing it would perhaps be better to work alongside his fellow man and not on his own for “sluggish weeks” that induce a “cold, dull, nameless change” (Hawthorne, X: 164) upon his countenance, the individualistic nature of his art is integral to the fact of its existence. Contrastingly, the same thing cannot be said for the collectively-focused Hovendens and Danforth. Their inability to understand Warland’s work and, ultimately, the reason their child destroys “the Beautiful” are fundamental. If individualism is a basic fact of Warland’s creative process, placing his moral worth over that of the whole, no such social conditions can be implicated in the group’s lack of comprehension. The distinction between artist and his audience is intangible but definitive. Hawthorne utilises this story not to illustrate this point solely but to explore the nature of the artist amidst the financial and cultural strains of the nascent American market. Ethereal genius and fanciful ideas of transcendence will not make money in the industrialising, capitalist world of mid-nineteenth-century America. The extreme individualism of Owen Warland must be combined with savvy dissemination to an increasing cultural market for profit. Unfortunately, for those not aware of the nuance of the creative process, their individualistic stance (or otherwise) is ineffective; they will remain at a constant remove from the incorporeal “beautiful.” Hawthorne explores the individualist ethic that so obsessed political commentary of his day in this story, maintaining the distance between artist and the common man, while simultaneously questioning Democratic and Tocquevillean conceptions of the individual’s role in society.

The idea of retreating from the world to write or to study is present throughout works from Hawthorne’s oeuvre. The artist’s withdrawal in “The Artist of the Beautiful” is a subtly constructed one, showcasing Hawthorne’s growing art while concomitantly presenting a nuanced social commentary on the post-Jacksonian era, a time still deeply affected by his mammoth influence on U.S. politics. In his first novel, Fanshawe, published anonymously in 1828, Hawthorne isolates many of the problems facing the artist in the capitalist, volatile marketplace of that era’s America. Fanshawe, written in the opening year of Andrew Jackson’s first term of office, is an important indication of the political and cultural milieu in which Hawthorne immerses his first narrative for publication. Furthermore, its coetaneous nature with the election of the seventh president might emphasise larger trends in Hawthorne’s writing that tie his cultural output to the contemporary moment rather than foregrounding Puritan or colonial traits within his oeuvre. As stated by his sister after the writer’s death, Hawthorne’s respect for the President knew no bounds, verging on hero-worship (Mancall 5). Further anecdotes of this time indicate that Hawthorne, a committed Democrat, was one of the few Salemites who greeted Jackson as he made his way past the town on his presidential election campaign. From our knowledge of the marketplace into which Hawthorne published Fanshawe, and his support for Jackson and the Democratic Party, we might explore the text on its merits rather than in the context of the author’s later disavowal and attempted destruction of extant copies.

The secluded setting of the story allows us to reflect on the political and social milieu of contemporary America by way of contrast. The eponymous protagonist represents in no way the paragon of his rough-and-tumble era, but the narrative emphasises the need for transformation to survive outside of the shelter presented by the confines of the university. Much like Owen Warland, who “turned pale and grew sick” (Hawthorne, X: 161) upon encountering the ultimate signifier of expansionist, capitalist America, the steam engine, Fanshawe’s natural environment is dominated by quiet, “shady retreats” and “secluded spots” (III: 4) provided by his “seminary of learning” (III: 3). Indeed, even if nature grows too loud for the student, “he had always a sure and quiet retreat in his study” (III: 6). Despite his inability to deal with thunderclaps or driving rain while sitting at the hearth, we are informed that despite his scholarly pursuits, his features held a “strength and boldness” (III: 15) that belied his contemplative occupation. As the story progresses, it is precisely his return to humanity’s “magnetic chain” and away from the selfishness of solitary work whereby his strength grows and the pallor is lifted. This, however, is not enough for the competitive nature of the time to come, as Hawthorne describes the still fragile nature of Fanshawe, despite his engagement with others: “(h)e was altogether a child in the ways of the world, having spent his youth and early manhood in abstracted study, and his maturity in the solitude of these hills” (III: 75). The book’s emphasis is often focused on the physical attributes of Fanshawe and his sheltered upbringing, away from the hustle and bustle of the perceived modern life of characters like Mr. Langton, a merchant introduced early in the story as a direct contrast to the shielded New England characters. As opposed to the often abstract, prolonged descriptions attributed to a number of the book’s scholarly characters, Langton’s brief history tells us that “(c)ertain misfortunes in trade…had deprived him of a large portion of his property” (III: 7). Upon introduction, and in clear distinction to the figure of Dr. Melmoth, the “learned and orthodox Divine” (III: 4), Langton is portrayed as a man of the world. His capitalistic drive and engagement in the machinations of trade in the nascent market of the Jacksonian era have cost him. Unlike many of the characters that populate the wooded confines of this “retired corner of one of the New England States” (III: 3), Langton has experienced life outside these quiet climes, and in the process “sacrificed his domestic happiness” (III: 7) in setting his heart on material gain.

Where do representations of artistic individualism enter the text of Fanshawe? The titular figure, in his academic solitude, shares many of the traits Hawthorne will later imbue upon Warland, Drowne and the artist of “The Prophetic Pictures.” According to Myerson, the fears of the author at this time, and his own perceived inability to engage in modern American life, contribute to the fragility of Fanshawe and produce in Langton and the villainous Angler symptoms of having engaged with the impersonal world of trade. In comparison to the academic lethargy of Fanshawe, who at times seems to have resumed his “habits of seclusion,” influenced by those around him, the Angler and Langton are practical men. The “arts” (Hawthorne, III: 23) they know are that of business and utility, their robust speech indicative of their knowledge of the world beyond the confines of Harley College. Furthermore, the figure of Hugh Crombie is directly related to Hawthorne’s representation of artists, being a musician and poet. Crombie is a clear depiction of Hawthorne’s fears surrounding issues of individual manhood in his America. If, as Kimmel contends, American men of this era began “to link their sense of themselves as men to their position in the volatile marketplace, to their economic success – a far less stable yet far more exciting and potentially rewarding peg upon which to hang one’s identity…The Self-Made Man of American mythology was born anxious and insecure” (III: 9), in these figures there is a deep personal awareness of masculinity’s predominance and its antagonism to Hawthorne’s “native temperament” (Herbert 76). Furthermore, Hawthorne’s fears regarding his post-Bowdoin life are evident throughout the text. Hawthorne struggled financially throughout his college years. In particular, his borrowing from his maternal uncles, the Manning family, is well-documented throughout his correspondence of this period. The author’s absent father is invoked in Fanshawe’s obsessive picture of the economic marketplace; Captain Hathorne left his family penniless at death and his widow had to move in with the Mannings. His fellow townspeople in Salem would have known that Hawthorne, after graduating from Bowdoin, had “neither profession nor visible means of livelihood” (Haviland 152). Crombie is exemplary of Hawthorne’s fears at this time, possessing little to recommend him to the marketplace in terms of skill in the “manual arts” that, as the novel tells us, gave “bread to others; but…would (not) give bread to him” (Hawthorne, III: 32). His work, despite its local fame, does not seem to have the atemporal qualities of the true artist, however; it is of “temporary interest” (III: 33), and its universality is stunted by its being based solely in the New England experience. It was on this point that Henry James would criticise Hawthorne and other of his literary forebears for their perceived “provincialism.” Hawthorne’s work after Fanshawe engaged with much broader societal issues than is suggested by the pejorative comments of James. It is part of his political and social embeddedness that allowed Hawthorne access to the literary marketplace throughout the 1830s and 1840s; his ability to critique Jacksonian democracy and individualism was central to the formation of a unique aesthetic found most clearly in Mosses from an Old Manse (1846) and The Scarlet Letter (1850).

Crombie’s work as a poet, despite some songs of his that “retain their influence over the heart” (III: 33), is not enough to allow him self-reliance. He leaves for sea, to gain “such property to render him easy in the decline of his days” (III: 35). Even at this stage of his career, Hawthorne is preoccupied with the question of making a living from his work, exhibiting in Crombie the fear that one would have to supplement a writing career with the manual labour that ensures self-sufficiency and masculine individuality in capricious Market Revolution America. The fact that the young man leaves on a merchant ship is also indicative of Hawthorne’s close familial history; his father died while at sea in 1808, consolidating his family’s precarious financial position and isolating in the young man’s mind the need to succeed in the volatile market of his era. Support would not always come from the Mannings, and Hawthorne spent the time after university searching for economic stability. The aforementioned aesthetic—presented to society by the artist—is based, in Hawthorne’s case, on the need to engage with the vicissitudes of Jacksonian marketplace but without the formerly acceptable tools of involvement. It is here, as Sklansky and McConachie have indicated, that the artist, actor or journalist stepped off in their need to present a newfound confidence in individual ability, beyond the previously guaranteed working traditions of the “people”.

Contemporary reviews of Fanshawe return to the economic preoccupations at the heart of the story. In a critique from Godey’s Lady’s Book published November 1828, Sarah Josepha Hale strikes to the heart of Hawthorne’s fears as an “invalid author,” affirming the need for American art, but emphasising the eminence of business in the climate of the country. Her review states what Hawthorne contemplates in this story and other tales:

Not that we wish to see a race of mere book-worm authors fostered among us. Our institutions and character, demand activity in business; the useful should be preferred before the ornamental; practical industry before speculative philosophy; reality before romance. But still the emanations of genius may be appreciated, and a refined taste cultivated among us. (Idol 28)

Hawthorne’s admiration for Jackson and Democrat policies was often offset by his inability to discern a legitimate place for Art and the artist in Market Revolution America. As Charles Wiltse discusses, American art of this era remained largely “imitative, reportorial, or polemic” (127), preferring escapist or propagandistic portrayals over meaningful searches for deeper significance. The stance that one can inhabit the individualist ethic in one’s own field, no matter its seeming frivolity, was brought to bear during these years in America but, as yet, was not fully developed. Fanshawe must become a man of action before the tale’s end and, for the most part, throw off the stolid inaction of his academic life, to save the story’s central love interest Ellen. Fanshawe’s being driven to engage with the devious Angler reflects Hawthorne’s subscription to the needs of America, similarly stated by Hale. Interestingly, however, Hawthorne introduces a synthesis of the “man of action” trope and Fanshawe’s recognisably academic caution: “Fanshawe was not deterred by the danger…and whether owing to his advantage in lightness of frame, or to superior caution, he arrived safely at the base of the precipice” (III: 106). As has been noted by Wiltse, “if he read nothing at all but the newspapers, the American of the 1830’s could hardly avoid imbibing something of the restless, questing spirit of Jacksonian Democracy” (128). Hawthorne is attempting to reconcile the ability of the sheltered collegian to become a masculine, independent figure when faced with the risks of the outside world. He endeavours to overcome his own fears of invalidity in the character of Fanshawe. When called upon, he becomes that great figure of Jacksonian America, the individual man of action, who casts away the hesitant conscience of the observer in order to save those nearest to him (Weber 158).

Fanshawe and “The Artist of the Beautiful” each depict elements of nascent individualism within their respective protagonist, while also providing representations of the unpredictable marketplace and its relations to various types of the “people” in Jacksonian America. The principal character’s metamorphosis from weak, isolated, artistically-minded figure to strong, self-driven saviour or transcendent observer is crucial to Hawthorne’s growing personal appreciation of the individualist ethic in America, instigated by the rise of Jacksonian politics. His representations of individualism become more nuanced as his career progressed, developing into contemplations of a unifying American ethos based on the values of individualism. This is clear particularly in the image of Hester Prynne, but it is also apparent throughout his short-story career, notably in “The May-Pole of Merry Mount” (1832) and “Young Goodman Brown” (1835). In the early period of Hawthorne’s writing, however, the reflections portrayed in Fanshawe and Owen Warland suggest the roots of a growing individualism. Despite perceived inactivity or femininity in the business of practical life, these characters turn from the purely speculative nature of secretive, private work to come to the aid of one in need. This is representative of various aspects of the ideal Jacksonian, including the individual who connects to the “magnetic chain of humanity” through their self-honed strength, something that Hawthorne look damningly upon in “Ethan Brand” (1850) and “The Man of Adamant” (1837). The development of this nuance in Hawthorne’s presentation of the individualist ethic will bring it more into line with that which the U.S. Magazine and Democratic Review described positively as something aligned with national values and ideals seen in evolutionary and universal terms (Lukes 27). This is a slight change from the individualism commented on in the early years of Jackson’s presidency, which maintained “largely simplistic views of the individual American’s links with his/her community” (Lukes 27). Contrastingly, reflecting the growth of thought on the subject, particularly after Jackson’s election in 1829, other critiques of this time discuss the country’s Jacksonian ethic in more philosophical terms: “The course of civilization is the progress of man from a state of savage individualism to that of an individualism more elevated, moral and refined” (Lukes 37). From the period of writing Fanshawe, and the creation of characters that exhibited connections to the world of business and art/academia respectively as spheres with little in common, Hawthorne’s portrayal of individualism, particularly that of the artist, develops greater nuance. The short stories, such as the “The Artist of the Beautiful,” present a deep study of the implications of the market revolution in America, its communities, and the sense of competition in a nation based on the values of individualism. Hawthorne’s artist figures portray the same worries the author held during this era. Their spiritual and aesthetic struggle lives and dies on the whims of the market in mid-nineteenth-century America.



[1] “Jacksonian America” is a broadly-used term that describes the era (usually taken between the years 1824 and 1854) in which mass democracy for the common man became institutionalised by Andrew Jackson and his Democratic followers. It emphasised a lack of involvement of government in people’s lives and was contemporaneous with, and helped facilitate, the Market Revolution and large capitalisation of American industry and the economy.


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Image credit: “Nathaniel Hawthorne” by Simon Harriyott from Uckfield, England, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under CC BY 2.0.