When I adapted the Hawthorne short story “The May-Pole of Merrymount” for Metropolitan Playhouse’s Hawthornicopia festival in early ’08, a blogger provoked a diatribe from me.The offending question: “Did you have to read Hawthorne in high school?
My answer was some variation of “Yeah, but you didn’t exactly need to put a gun to my head.” The truth is, writers like Hawthorne, Poe and Melville are among the few fiction writers I actually read for pleasure. That rich, brooding, dark, Romantic and metaphysical language, infused with an essence drawn from the King James Bible really represents the literary acme to me. The answer why is cultural, I imagine. My family, on both sides, has American roots that go deep into Colonial times. On my mother’s side they go all the way back to our Puritan origins. The same line has lived in the same rural section of Connecticut for something like 380 years. (This may sound more like Lovecraft than Hawthorne to you. So be it. You’d just better not run out of gas in that neck of the woods at night, that’s all I can say). My grandmother’s house was built during the War of 1812. It actually had a secret room behind a book-case, as well as a secret staircase. We often imagined ghosts, and my grandmother assured me she had seen them. Is it any wonder I would love something like The House of Seven Gables”? I was thrilled to finally visit it a few years back and to learn that I am indeed related to Hawthorne. I’ve read a good chunk of his writing by now, much of it more than once, and at some point I’ll have to do a much more in-depth post than this shout-out.
At any rate, this is a very American day. Not only is it Independence Day, not only is it the date on which John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died, not only is it the birthday of George M. Cohan and Stephen Foster, but it is also the birthday of Nathanial Hawthorne, one of America’s greatest writers. In celebration, I am going to eat several barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs at a cook-out before my afternoon nap, in the hope that the technique will enable me, too, to see ghosts. It’s worked before.