I have been s-l-o-w-l-y working my way through Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables. Not because it’s a difficult book, far from it, but because I see in it a deep allegory about the American character. I took another pause today, to look up some critical articles. In an article from The Explicator (Winter 2002), Max Loges traces the roots of the name of a major character, Hepzibah. The story arc of Hawthorne’s novel is amazingly parallel to Isaiah 62. What blows me away about it is that this passage, coincidentally, connects with one of William Blake’s major concepts: Beulah.
For Blake, Beulah was the land of dreams where men could mingle with angels. Beulah, in Isaiah 62, is where Hepzibah dwells. Of course, where Hepzibah dwells in Hawthorne’s novel is a ruined house, run down and falling apart, where a descendent of a proud line is forced to turn to commerce to survive. Not much of a dream, really— more like a nightmare. However, in the time-frame of the passage from Isaiah, where Hepzibah hears this prophecy of the married-land where she will dwell, she is in the desolate ruins of a city. This context adds depth to both Blake’s usage, and Hawthorne’s. Both Hepzibah and her brother Clifford were spurned by the people of the town initially, though they are vindicated in the end. What stands out to me most is the conflict that Clifford feels when considering, in his own demented way, the price of society gazing at an organ-grinder’s monkey from his window:
The spectator feels it to be fool’s play, when he can distinguish the tedious commonplace of each man’s visage, with the perspiration and weary self-importance on it, and the very cut of his pantaloons, and the stiffness or laxity of his shirt collar, and the dust on the back of his black coat.
In order to become majestic, it should be viewed from some vantage point, as it rolls its slow and long array through the centre of a wide plain, or the stateliest public square of a city; for then, by its remoteness, it melts all the petty personalities, of which it is made up, into one broad mass of existence,— one great life— , — one collected body of mankind, with a vast, homogeneous spirit animating it. But, on the other hand, an impressible person, standing alone over the brink of one of those processions, should behold it, not in its atoms, but in its aggregate,— as a mighty river of life, massive in its tide, and black with mystery, and, out of its depths, calling to the kindred depth within him,— then the contiguity would add to the effect.
It might fascinate him that he would hardly be restrained from plunging into the surging stream of human sympathies. (154)
There are many ways to read this passage. Crazy Clifford was thinking of jumping out the window; Hawthorne himself jumped into the utopian experiment at Brook Farm and was the worse for it. It could be a reflection on individuality vs. society. Yet again, it professes an interesting point of view toward representation— it might be best to view things from a distance, rather than in its atoms, because looking too closely, things fall apart. Looking at things from the long-view is always more seductive, and hopeful. Even for a depressive like Hawthorne, there is a sense of hope in the parallel with the arc of Jerusalem in Isaiah.