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The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Marble Faun (1860)

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Thank you Little Edie, I never would have picked this if it hadn't been for you.

The Marble Faun follows three expatriate artists and their Italian friend Donatello living in Rome in the mid 19th century. Hilda is sweet-natured and devout, literally living above the city in a tower room and, though Protestant, maintains a shrine to the Virgin Mary as part of her rent. Kenyon is a promising sculptor in love with Hilda, but gently refused. Miriam is a dark haired beauty whose origins are mystery and who refuses to join in the greater society of the city despite its invitations.

The artistic and social world of Rome is much more relaxed than the rest of Europe or even America. People can mingle together and are more freely excepted with less prying questions than anywhere else. A generation later Daisy Miller would have something to say about that, but that's how Hawthorne presents the place. That relaxed atmosphere has allowed Miriam to employ herself as an artist and find success in spite of unanswered questions about her past.

The start of the novel finds the four friends visiting the Capitoline Museums and discovering the remarkable resemblance between the carefree and passionate Donatello and the Faun of Praxiteles. There is a lot of speculation and joking about the man's true nature, or of being a descendant of that mythological race. Throughout the novel there are repeated references to Donatello's simple nature and love for Miriam paralleling mythology that persist until tragedy strikes. Readers of the day were fascinated with the idea that Donatello was a real faun and demanded answers from Hawthorne. Hawthorne wrote a postscript that answered some questions of plot but refused to touch on the shape or hirsuteness of that man's ears. He confesses disappointment that his readers cared more about the nature of a symbol in his work to the broader questions and the mystery of the novel itself. To be fair, the principle action of the novel begins when Miriam starts being plagued by visits from an unpleasant model who has a sinister hold over her. The novel is dedicated to raising more questions than its willing to answer and one can't blame Victorian readers from attaching themselves to a red herring.

Much like The House of Seven Gables, this was an enjoyable read. The characters opinions and philosophy were mingled with descriptions of the ancient beauty of the city and its treasures in such a way that the reader feels he is there and cannot help but want to go there himself. The Marble Faun is not as strong or clear as narrative as some of his other work, but as an exercise in travel writing it makes up for any deficiencies. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Not to my taste sort of meandered along. ( )
  brakketh | Jul 18, 2018 |
This was a grind. I really don’t have much time for Hawthorne and this was a bad Hawthorne.

On the surface, this is about a group of USAnian young people who spend time in Italy doing everything but being realistic. Their wealth obviously enables them to avoid the banalaties that the rest of us have to deal with, like cooking, cleaning, and generally earning a living. Thus, they can afford to prance around in art galleries, pursue their belief that the art they do is important somehow and, unfortunately for the reader, spend hours in lofty discourse on love, art, friendship, philosophy, and a whole host of subjects that the rest of us will have time to discuss once we’ve finished the dishes.

Their wealth also gives them, as it does for all of us, a falsely romantic notion of rustic poverty and their own importance to society. I could go on to describe what happens to them through the course of the novel, but I simply can’t be bothered. Despite there being a sort of plot, it meandered and ultimately vanished in the sands of the characters’ flowery prose. I wanted to slowly and very deliberately put them all to death.

Hawthorne hasn’t here written a novel where this is only the surface. Unfortunately, I think that, deep down, the novel is pretty much about the same thing i.e. an excuse to philosophise on stuff that will all be very well once we’ve sorted out the Zica virus, the tide of Syrian refugees and why the spare room is in such a state.

For me then, this was the worst form of writing: pointless navel-gazing that lacked reality and therefore relevance. In fact, it was as if he was channeling a deluded character from his previous novel, The Blithedale Romance! I fully understand why Ralph Waldo Emerson described it as “mush.”

Thus ends my reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I started with The Scarlet Letter. I should have stopped there, too. ( )
  arukiyomi | Jun 5, 2016 |
Hawthorne disappointed me in The Marble Faun. I had very high expectations after having loved The Scarlet Letter and having recently read and enjoyed both The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance, but the Faun does not come together as a compelling narrative. Instead, it is disjointed—-maundering between beautiful, sensitive, intensely felt and described art criticism, panegyrics on the architectural ruins of Rome, complaints of Rome’s modern sordidness, and (at times morosely) depressive imaginings on sin. I am now on page 343 of 362 pages, and want to write this review as the book is fresh in my thoughts.

I strive to be an ideal reader, opening myself to the author’s vision, and allowing the author space in which to craft a story without putting constraints of my own making on the text. But Hawthorne in The Marble Faun clearly reveals his sexist prejudices in ways that a woman reader cannot gloss over or ignore, and which must diminish him in my estimation.

Another reviewer here on LibraryThing (LisaMarie_C) notes the extremely disappointing Chapter VI “The Virgin’s Shrine,” which is a long fantasizing over the “virginal” Hilda in which Hawthorne writes:

“It strikes us that there is something far higher and nobler in all this, in her thus sacrificing herself to the devout recognition of the highest excellence in art, than there would have been in cultivating her not inconsiderable share of talent for the production of works from her own ideas. She might have set up for herself, and won no ignoble name; she might have helped to fill the already crowded and cumbered world with pictures, not destitute of merit, but falling short, if by ever so little, of the best that has been done; she might thus have gratified some tastes that were incapable of appreciating Raphael. But this could be done only by lowering the standard of art to the comprehension of the spectator. She chose the better and loftier and more unselfish part, laying her individual hopes, her fame, her prospects of enduring remembrance, at the feet of those great departed ones whom she so loved and venerated; and therefore the world was the richer for this feeble girl.”

My response to this paragraph is to see it as a rationalization of the sacrifices that he sees the women of his time, and his family and acquaintance, making to support the artistic efforts of the men in their lives, including (and possibly, especially) himself—Hawthorne was extremely jealous of his current and posthumous literary reputation. There is a defensiveness in this paragraph that seems to reflect a guilty complicity in the oppression of women in this period of history.

The remainder of the chapter is taken up with an obsessive idealization of Hilda as a virgin in white, surrounded with purity (and white doves) and unstained by the realities of life, the “angel in the house,” whom Hawthorne has allowed in this novel to briefly escape her captivity and experience freedom in Rome to pursue her own muse. Nevertheless, Hilda’s muse forsakes her, and leaves her as only the “best copyist” in Rome. I wait to see whether in the end of the novel Hilda will come to a deeper understanding of human nature or will return to America and the safe domesticity which Hawthorne seems to hold in store for her character.

There are many potentialities which Hawthorne does not fully develop, especially in the characters of, and relationship between, Miriam and Donatello, but it can be a trap to talk about lost opportunities in a literary work, so I won’t dwell on that. Miriam is a compelling character, and an interesting contrast to the cold sculpture Kenyon. Kenyon only begins to approximate a human in the last third of the novel.

Do I recommend The Marble Faun? Yes, first for the beauty of the prose describing Rome, its art and architecture—-these passages brought back many of my remembrances of my visit to Rome 20 years ago, during which I spent just as much time as Hawthorne appears to have done in the churches and cathedrals. Second, for the challenge to the reader of a difficult work which is not easily assimilated. There is something of worth here which I will perhaps not understand until I read it again. It evokes memories from my reading of Samuel Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, and it may be worthwhile comparing them. I think I’ll give myself a few years before I return to this novel. ( )
1 vote eowynfaramir | Oct 23, 2014 |
I loved Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables; I thought both had brilliant characters and writing. In the case of Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter, I loved her strength and abiding compassion. And in The House of Seven Gables I loved the old maid Hepzibah and her cousin Phoebe. I got through Blithedale Romance and found the character Zenobia fascinating at first, although disappointing in the end. I even got through Fanshawe, a none-too-good first novel Hawthorne disowned. But Fanshawe was little more than a hundred pages, and the other two novels two hundred odd pages--The Marble Faun is 402 pages, and by page 150, I was feeling it was going on forever.

Mind you, I rather loved Miriam--rather rare to have a strong female Jewish character in 19th Century fiction. Perhaps Hawthorne took a page from Sir Walter Scott's Rebecca in Ivanhoe? For that matter it was refreshing to see two women artists who were living--and making a living--independently. But then Hawthorne rather reversed that strong depiction of women with passages like this:

Hilda’s faculty of genuine admiration is one of the rarest to be found in human nature; and let us try to recompense her in kind by admiring her generous self-surrender, and her brave, humble magnanimity in choosing to be the handmaid of those old magicians, instead of a minor enchantress within a circle of her own.

The handmaid of Raphael, whom she loved with a virgin’s love! Would it have been worth Hilda’s while to relinquish this office for the sake of giving the world a picture or two which it would call original; pretty fancies of snow and moonlight; the counterpart in picture of so many feminine achievements in literature!

Riiight. That's how we should describe Hawthorne's distaff contemporaries Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot--as writers of pretty fancies of snow and moonlight who'd have done better to be handmaidens to their better halves. I heard that song before with Zenobia. And many of the descriptions of Rome and of the art is lovely--but what does it say that I found such digressions more interesting than the main narrative so transparently about a modern retelling of the Fall of Adam. And if how Hawthorne depicts Jews is commendable for his time, how he portrays Catholics is just abominable--even if understandable for his time. And worst of all is the "marble faun" of the story, Donatello. If ever a metaphor was overdone...

So, yeah, count me as not a fan of this. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | Sep 3, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nathaniel Hawthorneprimary authorall editionscalculated
Fisher, Neil H.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hill, JamesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krieger, MurrayAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
levin, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Four individuals, in whose fortunes we should be glad to interest the reader, happened to be standing in one of the saloons of the sculpture gallery, in the Capitol, at Rome. It was that room (the first, after ascending the staircase) in the centre of which reclines the noble and most pathetic figure of the Dying Gladiator, just sinking into his death-swoon.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140390774, Paperback)

This novel tells the story of Donarells, an Italian Count bearing an uncanny resemblance to the faun of Praxiteles, the sculptor Kenyon and two young art students, Miriam and Hilda. The author also wrote "Scarlet Letter".

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:19 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

The nineteenth-century American novelist's classic work of tragedy and mystery in modern Rome examines the influence of European culture on American morality.

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