“…I leave to the reader to determine.”

R. took the photos in this post on our 2010 trip to Salem/ Concord.

custom house


Above is the Salem Custom-house, built in 1819, which is smaller than the Boston house where Nathaniel Hawthorne found the faded scarlet letter, faintly embroidered in gold thread.


Nathaniel Hawthorne had long incapacitating stretches in childhood, as did other 19th-century literary figures. In his case lameness and illness contributed to his bookishness, and this was coupled with other times of innocent, vigorous, free-ranging boyish pursuits in the woods of Maine. This physical/mental contrast made all the difference in his emerging artistic qualities and pursuits. His lameness and languor were of Massachusetts, and metropolitan as much as Salem could be. It was town life, and often sequestering him. Yet between his reading of the classics and other Great Books, and his eyes and ears on Salem and its town pursuits, he developed themes and incidents, especially at first for his Twice Told Tales. But Maine. The district of Maine, as it was in his youth, gave Hawthorne his aesthetic qualities, especially the chiaroscuro, shaded and shadowy, non-coloring in contrast of presentation: its picturesqueness.

Hawthorne’s monochromatic but vivid picturesqueness


This image above, while part of Salem (or Concord?) not Maine, is representative of that quality Henry James called Hawthorne’s chiaroscuro picturesqueness.

Here’s a quote from a letter to Hawthorne’s publisher, JT Fields. “To this place came the widowed mother of Hawthorne in company with her brother, an original proprietor and one of the early settlers of the town of Raymond [the District of Maine]. This house was built for her, and here she lived with her son for several years in the most complete seclusion. …In what way, and to what extent, the surroundings of his boyhood operated in moulding the character and developing the genius of that gifted author, I leave to the reader to determine. I have tried simply to draw a faithful picture of his early home.”

the mean streets of salem 200 years later

“During the moonlight nights of winter he would skate until midnight all alone upon Sebago Lake, with the deep shadows of the icy hills on either hand. When he found himself far away from his home and weary with the exertion of skating, he would sometimes take refuge in a log-cabin, where half a tree would be burning on the broad hearth.” (J.T. Fields)

I know these qualities here in Maine, have experienced and portrayed them.

I see more parallels in characteristics of fiction. Moral concerns, coloration, descriptive abundance, severity. Grace. And process. While in progress, writing about The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne says, “in writing a romance, a man is always, or always ought to be, careering on the utmost verge of a precipitous absurdity, and the skill lies in coming as close as possible, without actually tumbling over.” (Fields, Yesterdays with Authors by James Thomas Fields)

Creative writers will recognize and relish this.

house of the seven gables


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