Chilling American Authors and Their
Spine-Tingling Stories of Yore: Volume II
Our next author was a close friend to U.S. President Franklin Pierce and is one of the most important writers in American literature. According to William Wilfred Birdsall…
“It was in the old town of Salem, Massachusetts — where his Puritan ancestors had
lived for nearly two hundred years — with its haunted memories of witches and
strange sea tales; its stories of Endicott and the Indians, and the sombre traditions
of witchcraft and Puritan persecution that (the author) was born July 4, 1804.
And it was in this grim, ancient city by the sea that the life of the renowned
romancer was greatly bound up. In his childhood the town was already falling to
decay, and his lonely surroundings filled his young imagination with a weirdness
that found expression in the books of his later life, and impressed upon his character
a seriousness that clung to him ever after. His father was a sea-captain, — but a
most melancholy and silent man, — who died when (the author) was four years old.
His mother lived a sad and secluded life, and the boy thus early learned to exist in
a strange and imaginative world of his own creation.”
– Beautiful Gems from American Writers and The Lives and Portraits of Our Favorite Authors, published in 1901
Who was this master of gothic romance?
The Darken’d Veil
Oh could I raise the darken’d veil
Which hides my future life from me,
Could unborn ages slowly sail
Before my view — and could I see
My every action painted there,
To cast one look I would not dare.
There poverty and grief might stand,
And dark Despair’s corroding hand,
Would make me seek the lonely tomb
To slumber in its endless gloom.
Then let me never cast a look,
Within Fate’s fix’d mysterious book.
Considered by many scholars to be his greatest work, Hawthorne examines human frailty and the fears associated with public shame in The Scarlet Letter…
“It was no wonder that they thus questioned one another’s actual and bodily existence, and even doubted of their own. So strangely did they meet, in the dim wood, that it was like the first encounter, in the world beyond the grave, of two spirits who had been intimately connected in their former life, but now stood coldly shuddering, in mutual dread; as not yet familiar with their state, nor wonted to the companionship of disembodied beings. Each a ghost, and awe-stricken at the other ghost! They were awe-stricken likewise at themselves; because the crisis flung back to them their consciousness, and revealed to each heart its history and experience, as life never does, except at such breathless epochs. The soul beheld its features in the mirror of the passing moment. It was with fear, and tremulously, and, as it were, by a slow, reluctant necessity, that Arthur Dimmesdale put forth his hand, chill as death, and touched the chill hand of Hester Prynne. The grasp, cold as it was, took away what was dreariest in the interview. They now felt themselves, at least, inhabitants of the same sphere.”
– The Scarlet Letter Chapter XVII: The Pastor and His Parishioner
In The Haunted Mind which was first published in 1835, Hawthorne seeks to explain the strange place between being asleep and being awake…
“You sink down and muffle your head in the clothes, shivering all the while, but less from bodily chill than the bare idea of a polar atmosphere. It is too cold even for the thoughts to venture abroad. You speculate on the luxury of wearing out a whole existence in bed like an oyster in its shell, content with the sluggish ecstasy of inaction, and drowsily conscious of nothing but delicious warmth such as you now feel again. Ah! that idea has brought a hideous one in its train. You think how the dead are lying in their cold shrouds and narrow coffins through the drear winter of the grave, and cannot persuade your fancy that they neither shrink nor shiver when the snow is drifting over their little hillocks and the bitter blast howls against the door of the tomb. That gloomy thought will collect a gloomy multitude and throw its complexion over your wakeful hour.”
– The Haunted Mind
“Halfway down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. The street is Pyncheon Street; the house is the old Pyncheon House; and an elm-tree, of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon Elm. On my occasional visits to the town aforesaid, I seldom failed to turn down Pyncheon Street, for the sake of passing through the shadow of these two antiquities,—the great elm-tree and the weather-beaten edifice.”
– Beginning of The House of Seven Gables