Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Fanshawe was his first published work and notably self-published (he paid for the typesetting and printing costs). It seems Hawthorne was self-conscious about paying for his own publication. He did not put his name on it and when it did not sell, he burned his remaining copies, despite receiving some favorable reviews. In our day, self-publishing is booming whether through blogs and print on demand technology. The exploitative and thoroughly odious vanity presses will hopefully find themselves without much of a market soon. I saw a number cited (from a blog) suggesting that one half of the books published are now self-published. The article argued that self-publishing was filling in the gap left by conventional presses, as they became more conservative in recent years. The academic criticism of self-publishing is based on quality control, I suppose. Self-published works do not go through the editorial processes and peer review. That is, they do not go through the cultural gate keepers before coming to light. If we take a broader view of publication we quickly find that the gate keepers are not necessary and mostly play a role to either censor some voices, protect the interests of publishing companies, or unfairly raise the bar for younger writers. Anarchists have been self-publishing for a long time. Sure, there are a handful of anarchist presses that look “traditional,” editing, publishing and distributing books. AK Press is worker-owned, but I cannot speak to its editorial process (the Web site suggests an internal democratic review of submissions). I am thinking more of zines and homemade pamphlets and newsletters. As with blogs, quality will become the responsibility of the author and likely suffer (note the numerous typos in this quickly assembled blog of mine), but this is a small price to pay. If not for self-publishing we would not have Homer.
Why did Hawthorne take this route in 1828. He wrote it in his early 20s, while at Bowdoin College. He had a strong ambition to be a writer. His early stories were rejected by publishers, leading to the burning of his manuscript of “Seven Tales of My Native Land.” Self-publication of Fanshawe may have come out of frustration and impatience. I am struck by the psychological anxiety it caused him, almost as if he saw the work as inferior because he had to pay to publish for it. He would not attempt another novel until 1849, when he starts work on A Scarlett Letter, working only on short stories, children’s books, and editorial projects.
Fanshawe is set in a college like Bowdoin and surrounds the courtship activities of some young adults: the adopted daughter of the college president, Ellen Langton; a strong, confident student Edward Walcott; and the titular Fanshawe, who is in ill-health apparently because he does not get enough sun and reads too much. It actually have the makings of a teenage romantic comedy, where the nerdy introvert gets the girl from the crude jock. It moves away from this potential with the introduction of the “angler,” the first character not directly associated with the college. The angler kidnaps Ellen and Walcott, Fanshawe and the college president go on an adventure to recover her from the villain. The angler dies from an accident during the pursuit and Ellen is ready to choose her future husband. Fanshawe sacrifices his desire for Ellen saying: “We must part now and forever. Your life will be long and happy. Mine will be short, but not altogether wretched – shorter than if we had never met. When you hear that I am in my grave, do not imagine that you have hastened me thither.” (112) Soon enough he dies a “Hard Student and a Good Scholar.” Later, Ellen married Edward Walcott.
The novel does have some nice moments but I was troubled by a great deal of it. A poor, dying young scholar is simply too disgusting a figure to contemplate, especially since he does not seem to produce much except anxiety during his short life. (Schubert gave us 600 songs and had the good sense to die of syphilis). He does show some bravely in seeking out after Ellen, ahead of the better rider Edward, but he quickly falls behind. He is also integral to the climax in the final pursuit of the angler and the rescue of Ellen, but rather than transforming his life, he fatalistically accepts that he is ill and turns away from the woman he loves, in a rather cheap sacrifice. I got the sense, Fanshawe would not know what to do with a wife, after a life of solitude. Equally troubling for me was how Hawthorne made the villain the only outsider of the college, suggesting that the borders of the college lock in civilization. It is outside of those boundaries where the nefarious take place. Hawthorne matures on this point and in later works is more than eager to find the corruption within the boundaries of the civilization. Finally, Ellen is presented as fragile herself and is the target throughout the novel of the gaze of various men, including a kidnapper who tried to fraudulently get her to accept his marriage proposal. In the end, someone needs to end up with her and she chooses the suitor who is not dead. Brilliant!
Back to the stories next time. I will be breaking them up with novels at the appropriate points in Hawthorne’s career, but the next six posts will be about stories. The rest of his novels all appeared late in his career.