ABSTRACT

In the prefatory sketch “The Old Manse,” Nathaniel Hawthore’s narrator vigorously objects to the way his family is traumatically uprooted along with the Manse’s eponymous mosses. This article considers that moment—as well as Nathaniel and Sophia’s broader account of life at the Manse and the neighboring Concord Battlefield in their Common Journal of 1842–43—in order to revise our understanding of Hawthorne’s relationship to revolutionary history, politics, and monuments. By grappling with the pervasive, nearly paradoxical, problem of establishing traditions in a nation founded upon revolutionary rupture, Hawthorne moves toward begrudging endorsements of decay as both degenerative and regenerative agent. Far from undoing the work of memory, the disintegration brought about by natural actants (such as moss) produce modes of relationship that inoculate against presentist and teleological senses of national destiny. However, even as Hawthorne seeks to preserve certain forms of historical consciousness, he risks downplaying the labor of women and revolutionaries. Despite these limitations, this article concludes that Hawthorne’s counter-monumental aesthetic models a broader paradigm that is neither straightforwardly preservationist nor prone to abrupt historical erasure: in which natural agents of decay eat away at the nationalist narratives concretized by memorials and thereby reveal the constructed nature of historical memory.

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