Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun

Oxford University

July 2006

The Nathaniel Hawthorne Society held its annual conference at Oxford University on July 13-16, 2006 in conjunction with the Edgar Allan Poe and Ralph Waldo Emerson societies, and I participated. Sponsored by the Rothermere American Institute and St. Catherine’s College, the conference’s theme was “Transatlanticism in American Literature: Emerson, Hawthorne, and Poe.”

Academics and specialists in early 19th century American literature from around the world (including noted literary scholars Paul Giles and Susan Manning) discussed Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe in terms of transatlantic literary culture, both in their era and ours.

Among the many literary, intellectual, and cultural issues examined were Romanticism and Victorianism as they affected — and were affected by — these three writers; their views of England, France, Spain & Portugal (and vice-versa); feminism; journals, travelogues and correspondence; philosophical encounters, political influences, religious movements & scientific ideas; slavery, Abolitionism & the Civil War; and the business of marketing, popular and critical reception, & copyright.

Also discussed were the mutual influences (or lack thereof) between these three and such figures as Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, Alexis de Tocqueville, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Sand, Margaret Fuller, Charles Baudelaire, Michel de Montaigne, Gustavo Bécquer, Edmund Burke, Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin, Walter Scott, and Marcel Proust.

I delivered an updated version of a seminar paper I’d written about The Marble Faun while in graduate school.

This paper is available as an e-book on Amazon Direct Publishing for the low price of $.99. Click HERE to purchase.

The Marble Faun (1862) was Hawthorne’s final novel: he died shortly after its publication. It is also his only novel set in Europe, rather than colonial New England. Hawthorne has a lot to say about art (and sex) in this somewhat uncharacteristic book.

Incidentally, as both my schedule and my budget were somewhat limited, I couldn’t do all the sightseeing I might’ve wished. There simply wasn’t time to see Stonehenge, for example, or the Chunnel. London was an hour away, and consequently all I saw of it was Heathrow Airport (and most of that from the train terminal below ground). However, I did manage to squeeze in some tourism in Oxford itself, hardly a weak substitute. There’s enough there to keep a visitor occupied for week; I had a day, and I covered what I could, camera in hand. [Click here to view my Oxford travelogue.]

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The Compulsive Reader

During 2006, I developed a strong Web presence on a site out of Australia called “The Compulsive Reader.” It’s operated by Maggie Ball, a New York City native who went to graduate school in Oxford, England, where she met her husband-to-be. He took her back to the Land Down Under, where she pursues a variety of literary interests and projects, including another Web site called “Preschool Entertainment” (devoted to early education), as well as a soon-to-be-released novel.

“TCR” has posted a number of my book reviews and literary essays, some of which have appeared elsewhere in slightly different form (as you’ll notice further down this page). Among others, these include extended reviews of books about jazz, baseball and literature, of course:

Also, a couple short reviews of contemporary novels with seafaring themes, reflecting my own maritime experience:

In addition, a discussion of a classic short story by a 19th-century giant …

… as well as a look at the biography of one from the 20th Century:

I examine the influence of two religious movements, one ancient and one more modern, on contemporary literature:

  • Gnosticism and Literature
  • “The Influence of Puritanism on American Literature” (This essay is available as an e-book on Amazon Direct Publishing for the low price of $.99. Click HERE to purchase.)

I also discuss the tradition of the pen name, or nom de plume:

  • “A Brief History of the Pseudonym” (This essay is available as an e-book on Amazon Direct Publishing for the low price of $.99. Click HERE to purchase.)

“The Compulsive Reader” is a terrific site, with reviews of a wide range of books (not just highbrow stuff!), and it’s well worth the time of anyone who likes to read — and those who might like to write some book reviews themselves.

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My review of Mark Winchell’s of Leslie Fiedler


August 14, 2004

Mark Winchell’s biography of the late Leslie Fiedler, Too Good to be True (U Missouri, 2002), was unreviewed on Amazon.com at the time I read it.

Credited by The Oxford English Dictionary with being the first person to apply the term “postmodernist” to literature, Fiedler, perhaps best known for his now-classic Love and Death in the American Novel (mentioned above), also made waves with his notorius 1948 essay “Come Back to the Raft Ag’n, Huck Honey,” an incendiary 1953 essay, “Afterthoughts on the Rosenbergs,” and his account of a phoney drug raid of his home by the Buffalo police, “Being Busted.” A running obsession with him was the theme of Jewishness, and as his academic career took him from Newark to Montana to Buffalo (with various overseas sojourns) he was the very incarnation of the Wandering Jew.

Unlike the vast majority of academic scholars, he actually wrote fiction, as well. “I have, I admit, a low tolerance for detached chronicling and cool analysis,” Fiedler once wrote. “I long for the raised voice, the howl of rage or love.” Undoubtedly, that’s why he found me modestly diverting and consented to take me on as a student. As a Professor Emeritus, he could pick and chose his students, and at the urging of his secretary Joyce Troy I presumed to approach him one day and was staggered to receive a favorable reception!

While in graduate school at the University of Buffalo, I was privileged to partake in two one-on-one guided readings with Professor Fiedler, studying Melville and the literature of the Spanish Civil War with him. I then went on to write my dissertation under his direction.

I also helped him and his wife Sally sort through the charred remnants of his literary collection after they suffered a house fire in 1994. So, I flatter myself that I might be in some position to judge Winchell as both a biographer and a writer.

See my review of this book on Amazon.com

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W. P. Kinsella: Baseball’s Magical Realist

The Diamond Angle (baseball e-zine)

July 2003

The troubled South American country of Colombia, flanked to the northwest by Panama, home of Rod Carew, and to the northeast by Venezuela, birthplace of Luis Aparicio, has no comparable stars in the pantheon of yanqui baseball.

The vaunted Colombian author Gabriel Garcia-Márquez, sometimes dubbed Latin America’s answer to William Faulkner and James Joyce, hasn’t written about the sport. The politically-minded writer, who has raised some hackles in Miami by getting chummy with Fidel Castro for many years, may well have seen a ball game or two in Havana. Like most Cubaños, Castro is a huge fan, and he has often played cordial host to the Nobel-winning novelist, best known for the 1967 epic One Hundred Years of Solitude, first published in English in 1970. (Of course, while the Southern-fried Faulkner did make some singular observations about golf and swimming in The Sound and the Fury, neither he nor Joyce wrote much about baseball, either—although the Irishman did pass droll remarks about cricket, soccer, boxing and horse racing).

For literary-minded baseball fans, in light of Garcia-Márquez’s accomplishments as a writer, his omission is probably our loss as well. He and Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina are the most prominent practitioners of the literary style known as “Magical Realism,” a worldwide movement in both painting and prose fiction during the last century. In novels of this genre, the frame or surface of a work may be conventionally realistic but contrasting elements—such as the supernatural, myths, dreams and fantasy—invade the realism and change the whole basis of the literary art. … [Full essay]

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National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library

Although no longer a resident of Academe, I still pursue my various scholarly interests. At times, this has happened in interesting and unexpected ways, as on one occasion while I was features editor for a daily newspaper, the Marshalltown Times-Republican.

In early 2001, I wrote a story about the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. My piece focused on a special exhibit, “20th Century Sensations,” highlighting the contributions made by Czechs and Slovaks to modern popular culture (always a fascination of mine). This included writer Franz Kakfka — another fascination of mine.

A University of Iowa literature professor slated to deliver a talk on Kafka had to withdraw for medical reasons. I volunteered to stand in for her, so Jan Tursi, NCSML program coordinator, invited me to deliver a lecture on this haunting and extremely influential author, and in June I presented “Franz Kafka: An Amerikan Perspective” to a very gracious audience.

[To view my presentation, click here].

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Encyclopedia of American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

The time I spent at sea deepened a fondness for maritime authors and seafaring literature. A mutual interest in Melville led to an invitation from Professor Jill Gidmark to contribute to her Encyclopedia of American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes (Greenwood: 2001).

This reference work is a comprehensive survey of American sea literature, with facts about major literary works, authors, characters, themes, vessels, places, and ideas central to American literature of the sea and Great Lakes.

I wrote short reviews of two contemporary novels:

The Ordinary Seaman, by Francisco Goldman (Grove, 1998)

“… Goldman’s second novel … has been described as a modern parable of America’s hidden immigrant culture. …” (read full review)

The Ark of the Marindor, by Barry Targan (MacMurray,1998)

“This novel … by Targan, who has published poetry and other prose, is his maiden voyage into the realm of maritime literature. …” (read full review)

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