As the forces of racial anxiety and pandemic combined in America in 2020 in the BLM protests and COVID-19 outbreak, so too they combine in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun (1860) in the form of antebellum racism and malaria. Written shortly after his European tour, Hawthorne's final novel, which is packed with comments about the poisonous Roman air, features New England artists Hilda and Kenyon who must navigate Italy without becoming degraded, while Italians Miriam and Donatello belong to the corruption that Italy breeds. The pestilence oozing between the lines of this novel is born out of racial transgressions; though different in scope from America's enslavement of Africans, the tension between white, Protestant American culture and Catholic Italy speaks to the same neuroses haunting the American psyche of not only the 1850s but also the twenty-first century. The American characters' separation from the Roman atmosphere mirrors the growing separation between North and South during the runup to the Civil War. Like America, Italy was on the verge of war, although as a force of unification instead of dissolution; yet for both, Hawthorne subverts the open discussion of any political tension to the level of a diseased atmosphere.

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