Studies in Classic American Literature/Chapter 7
|←Edgar Allan Poe||Studies in Classic American Literature by
Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter
|Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance→|
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE writes romance.
And what's romance? Usually, a nice little tale where you have everything As You Like It, where rain never wets your jacket and gnats never bite your nose and it's always daisy-time. As You Like It and Forest Lovers, etc. Morte D'Arthur.
Hawthorne obviously isn't this kind of romanticist: though nobody has muddy boots in The Scarlet Letter, either.
But there is more to it. The Scarlet Letter isn't a pleasant, pretty romance. It is a sort of parable, an earthly story with a hellish meaning.
All the time there is this split in the American art and art-consciousness. On the top it is as nice as pie, goody-goody and lovey-dovey. Like Hawthorne being such a blue-eyed darling, in life, and Longfellow and the rest such sucking-doves. Hawthorne's wife said she 'never saw him in time', which doesn't mean she saw him too late. But always in the 'frail effulgence of eternity'.
Serpents they were. Look at the inner meaning of their art and see what demons they were.
You must look through the surface of American art, and see the inner diabolism of the symbolic meaning. Otherwise it is all mere childishness.
That blue-eyed darling Nathaniel knew disagreeable things in his inner soul. He was careful to send them out in disguise.
Always the same. The deliberate consciousness of Americans so fair and smooth-spoken, and the under-consciousness so devilish. Destroy! destroy! destroy! hums the under-consciousness. Love and produce! Love and produce! cackles the upper consciousness. And the world hears only the Love-and-produce cackle. Refuses to hear the hum of destruction underneath. Until such time as it will have to hear.
The American has got to destroy. It is his destiny. It is his destiny to destroy the whole corpus of the white psyche, the white consciousness. And he's got to do it secretly. As the growing of a dragon-fly inside a chrysalis or cocoon destroys the larva grub, secretly.
Though many a dragon-fly never gets out of the chrysalis case: dies inside. As America might.
So the secret chrysalis of The Scarlet Letter, diabolically destroying the old psyche inside.
Be good! Be good! warbles Nathaniel. Be good, and never sin! Be sure your sins will find you out.
So convincingly that his wife never saw him 'as in time'.
Then listen to the diabolic undertone of The Scarlet Letter.
Man ate of the tree of knowledge, and became ashamed of himself.
Do you imagine Adam had never lived with Eve before that apple episode? Yes, he had. As a wild animal with his mate.
It didn't become 'sin' till the knowledge-poison entered. That apple of Sodom.
We are divided in ourselves, against ourselves. And that is the meaning of the cross symbol.
In the first place, Adam knew Eve as a wild animal knows its mate, momentaneously, but vitally, in blood-knowledge. Blood-knowledge, not mind-knowledge. Blood-knowledge, that seems utterly to forget, but doesn't. Blood-knowledge, instinct, intuition, all the vast vital flux of knowing that goes on in the dark, antecedent to the mind.
Then came that beastly apple, and the other sort of knowledge started.
Adam began to look at himself. 'My hat!' he said. 'What's this ? My Lord ! What the deuce ! - And Eve ! I wonder about Eve.'
Thus starts KNOWING. Which shortly runs to UNDERSTANDING, when the devil gets his own.
When Adam went and took Eve, after the apple, he didn't do any more than he had done many a time before, in act. But in consciousness he did something very different. So did Eve. Each of them kept an eye on what they were doing, they watched what was happening to them. They wanted to KNOW. And that was the birth of sin. Not doing it, but KNOWING about it. Before the apple, they had shut their eyes and their minds had gone dark. Now, they peeped and pried and imagined. They watched themselves. And they felt uncomfortable after. They felt self-conscious. So they said, 'The act is sin. Let's hide. We've sinned.'
No wonder the Lord kicked them out of the Garden. Dirty hypocrites.
The sin was the self-watching, self-consciousness. The sin, and the doom. Dirty understanding.
Nowadays men do hate the idea of dualism. It's no good, dual we are. The cross. If we accept the symbol, then, virtually, we accept the fact. We are divided against ourselves.
For instance, the blood hates being KNOWN. Hence the profound instinct of privacy.
And on the other hand, the mind and the spiritual consciousness of man simply hates the dark potency of blood-acts: hates the genuine dark sensual orgasms, which do, for the time being, actually obliterate the mind and the spiritual consciousness, plunge them in a suffocating flood of darkness.
You can't get away from this.
Blood-consciousness overwhelms, obliterates, and annuls mind-consciousness.
Mind-consciousness extinguishes blood-consciousness, and consumes the blood.
We are all of us conscious in both ways. And the two ways are antagonistic in us.
They will always remain so.
That is our cross.
The antagonism is so obvious, and so far-reaching, that it extends to the smallest thing. The cultured, highly-conscious person of today loathes any form of physical, 'menial' work: such as washing dishes or sweeping a floor or chopping wood. This menial work is an insult to the spirit. 'When I see men carrying heavy loads, doing brutal work, it always makes me want to cry,' said a beautiful, cultured woman to me.
'When you say that, it makes me want to beat you,' said I, in reply. 'When I see you with your beautiful head pondering heavy thoughts, I just want to hit you. It outrages me.'
My father hated books, hated the sight of anyone reading or writing.
My mother hated the thought that any of her sons should be condemned to manual labour. Her sons must have something higher than that.
She won. But she died first.
He laughs longest who laughs last.
There is a basic hostility in all of us between the physical and the mental, the blood and the spirit. The mind is 'ashamed' of the blood. And the blood is destroyed by the mind, actually. Hence pale-faces.
At present the mind-consciousness and the so-called spirit triumphs. In America supremely. In America, nobody does anything from the blood. Always from the nerves, if not from the mind. The blood is chemically reduced by the nerves, in American activity.
When an Italian labourer labours, his mind and nerves sleep, his blood acts ponderously.
Americans, when they are doing things, never seem really to be doing them. They are 'busy about' it. They are always busy 'about' something. But truly immersed in doing something, with the deep blood-consciousness active, that they never are.
They admire the blood-conscious spontaneity. And they want to get it in their heads. 'Live from the body,' they shriek. It is their last mental shriek. Co-ordinate.
It is a further attempt still to rationalize the body and blood. 'Think about such and such a muscle,' they say, 'and relax there.'
And every time you 'conquer' the body with the mind (you can say ' heel ' it, if you like) you cause a deeper, more dangerous complex or tension somewhere else.
Ghastly Americans, with their blood no longer blood. A yellow spiritual fluid.
There have been lots of Falls.
We fell into knowledge when Eve bit the apple. Self-conscious knowledge. For the first time the mind put up a fight against the blood. Wanting to UNDERSTAND. That is to intellectualize the blood.
The blood must be shed, says Jesus.
Shed on the cross of our own divided psyche.
Shed the blood, and you become mind-conscious. Eat the body and drink the blood, self-cannibalizing, and you become extremely conscious, like Americans and some Hindus. Devour yourself, and God knows what a lot you'll know, what a lot you'll be conscious of.
Mind you don't choke yourself.
For a long time men believed that they could be perfected through the mind, through the spirit. They believed, passionately. They had their ecstasy in pure consciousness. They believed in purity, chastity, and the wings of the spirit.
America soon plucked the bird of the spirit. America soon killed the belief in the spirit. But not the practice. The practice continued with a sarcastic vehemence. America, with a perfect inner contempt for the spirit and the consciousness of man, practices the same spirituality and universal love and KNOWING all the time, incessantly, like a drug habit. And inwardly gives not a fig for it. Only for the sensation. The pretty-pretty sensation of love, loving all the world. And the nice fluttering aeroplane sensation of knowing, knowing, knowing. Then the prettiest of all sensations, the sensation of UNDERSTANDING. Oh, what a lot they understand, the darlings! So good at the trick, they are. Just a trick of self-conceit.
The Scarlet Letter gives the show away.
You have your pure-pure young parson Dimmesdale.
You have the beautiful Puritan Hester at his feet.
And the first thing she does is to seduce him.
And the first thing he does is to be seduced.
And the second thing they do is to hug their sin in secret, and gloat over it, and try to understand.
Which is the myth of New England.
Deerslayer refused to be seduced by Judith Hutter. At least the Sodom apple of sin didn't fetch him
But Dimmesdale was seduced gloatingly. Oh, luscious Sin!
He was such a pure young man.
That he had to make a fool of purity.
The American psyche.
Of course, the best part of the game lay in keeping up pure appearances.
The greatest triumph a woman can have, especially an American woman, is the triumph of seducing a man: especially if he is pure.
And he gets the greatest thrill of all, in falling. - 'Seduce me, Mrs Hercules.'
And the pair of them share the subtlest delight in keeping up pure appearances, when everybody knows all the while. But the power of pure appearances is something to exult in. All America gives in to it. Look pure!
To seduce a man. To have everybody know. To keep up appearances of purity. Pure!
This is the great triumph of woman.
A. The Scarlet Letter. Adulteress! The great Alpha. Alpha! Adulteress! The new Adam and Adama! American!
A. Adulteress! Stitched with gold thread, glittering upon the bosom. The proudest insignia.
Put her upon the scaffold and worship her there. Worship her there. The Woman, the Magna Mater. A. Adulteress! Abel!
Abel! Abel! Abel! Admirablel
It becomes a farce.
The fiery heart. A. Mary of the Bleeding Heart. Mater Adolerata! A. Capital A. Adulteress. Glittering with gold thread. Abel! Adultery. Admirable!
It is, perhaps, the most colossal satire ever penned. The Scarlet Letter. And by a blue-eyed darling of a Nathaniel.
Not Bumppo, however.
The human spirit, fixed in a lie, adhering to a lie, giving itself perpetually the lie.
All begins with A.
Adulteress. Alpha Abel, Adam. A. America.
The Scarlet Letter.
'Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puritans, he might have seen in this beautiful woman, so picturesque in her attire and mien, and with the infant at her bosom, an object to remind him of the image of Divine Maternity, which so many illustrious painters have vied with one another to represent; something which should remind him, indeed, but only by contrast, of that sacred image of sinless Motherhood, whose infant was to redeem the world.'
Whose infant was to redeem the world indeed! It will be a startling redemption the world will get from the American infant.
Here was a taint of deepest sin in the most sacred quality of human life, working such effect that the world was only the darker for this woman's beauty, and more lost for the infant she had borne.
Just listen to the darling. Isn't he a master of apology?
Of symbols, too.
His pious blame is a chuckle of praise all the while.
Oh, Hester, you are a demon. A man must be pure, just so that you can seduce him to a fall. Because the greatest thrill in life is to bring down the Sacred Saint with a flop into the mud. Then when you've brought him down humbly wipe off the mud with your hair, another Magdalen. And then go home and dance a witch's jig of triumph, and stitch yourself a Scarlet Letter with gold thread, as duchesses used to stitch themselves coronets. And then stand meek on the scaffold and fool the world. Who will all be envying you your sin, and beating you because you've stolen an advantage over them.
Hester Prynne is the great nemesis of woman. She is the KNOWING Ligeia risen diabolic from the grave. Having her own back. UNDERSTANDING.
This time it is Mr Dimmesdale who dies. She lives on and is Abel.
His spiritual love was a lie. And prostituting the woman to his spiritual love, as popular clergymen do, in his preachings and loftiness, was a tall white lie. Which came flop.
We are so pure in spirit. Hi-tiddly-i-ty!
Till she tickled him in the right place, and he fell.
Flop goes spiritual love.
But keep up the game. Keep up appearances. Pure are the pure. To the pure all things, etc.
Look out, Mister, for the Female Devotee. Whatever you do, don't let her start tickling you. She knows your weak spot. Mind your Purity.
When Hester Prynne seduced Arthur Dimmesdale it was the beginning of the end. But from the beginning of the end to the end of the end is a hundred years or two.
Mr Dimmesdale also wasn't at the end of his resources. Previously, he had lived by governing his body, ruling it, in the interests of his spirit. Now he has a good time all by himself torturing his body, whipping it, piercing it with thorns, macerating himself. It's a form of masturbation. He wants to get a mental grip on his body. And since he can't quite manage it with the mind, witness his fall - he will give it what for, with whips. His will shall lash his body. And he enjoys his pains. Wallows in them. To the pure all things are pure.
It is the old self-mutilation process, gone rotten. The mind wanting to get its teeth in the blood and flesh. The ego exulting in the tortures of the mutinous flesh. I, the ego, I will triumph over my own flesh. Lash! Lash! I am a grand free spirit. Lash! I am the master of my soul! Lash! Lash! I am the captain of my soul. Lash! Hurray! 'In the fell clutch of circumstance,' etc., etc.
Good-bye Arthur. He depended on women for his Spiritual Devotees, spiritual brides. So, the woman just touched him in his weak spot, his Achilles Heel of the flesh. Look out for the spiritual bride. She's after the weak spot.
It is the battle of wills.
'For the will therein lieth, which dieth not -'
The Scarlet Woman becomes a Sister of Mercy. Didn't she just, in the late war. Oh, Prophet Nathaniel!
Hester urges Dimmesdale to go away with her, to a new country, to a new life. He isn't having any.
He knows there is no new country, no new life on the globe today. It is the same old thing, in different degrees, everywhere. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. Hester thinks, with Dimmesdale for her husband, and Pearl for her child, in Australia, maybe, she'd have been perfect.
But she wouldn't. Dimmesdale had already fallen from his integrity as a minister of the Gospel of the Spirit. He had lost his manliness. He didn't see the point of just leaving himself between the hands of a woman and going away to a 'new country', to be her thing entirely. She'd only have despised him more, as every woman despises a man who has 'fallen' to her; despises him with her tenderest lust.
He stood for nothing any more. So let him stay where he was and dree out his weird.
She had dished him and his spirituality, so he hated her. As Angel Clare was dished, and hated Tess. As Jude in the end hated Sue: or should have done. The women make fools of them, the spiritual men. And when, as men, they've gone flop in their spirituality, they can't pick themselves up whole any more. So they just crawl, and die detesting the female, or the females, who made them fall.
The saintly minister gets a bit of his own back, at the last minute, by making public confession from the very scaffold where he was exposed. Then he dodges into death. But he's had a bit of his own back, on everybody.
'Shall we not meet again?' whispered she, bending her face down close to him. 'Shall we not spend our immortal life together ? Surely, surely, we have ransomed one another with all this woe! Thou lookest far into eternity with those bright dying eyes. Tell me what thou seest !' 'Hush, Hester - hush,' said he, with tremulous solemnity. 'The law we broke! - the sin here so awfully revealed! Let these alone be in thy thoughts. I fear! I fear!'
So he dies, throwing the 'sin' in her teeth, and escaping into death.
The law we broke, indeed. You bet!
But it is truly a law, that man must either stick to the belief he has grounded himself on, and obey the laws of that belief, or he must admit the belief itself to be inadequate, and prepare himself for a new thing.
There was no change in belief, either in Hester or in Dimmesdale or in Hawthorne or in America. The same old treacherous belief, which was really cunning disbelief, in the Spirit, in Purity, in Selfless Love, and in Pure Consciousness. They would go on following this belief, for the sake of the sensation of it. But they would make a fool of it all the time. Like Woodrow Wilson, and the rest of modern Believers. The rest of modern Saviours.
If you meet a Saviour, today, be sure he is trying to make an innermost fool of you. Especially if the saviour be an UNDERSTANDING WOMAN, offering her love.
Hester lives on, pious as pie, being a public nurse. She becomes at last an acknowledged saint, Abel of the Scarlet Letter.
She would, being a woman. She has had her triumph over the individual man, so she quite loves subscribing to the whole spiritual life of society. She will make herself as false as hell, for society's sake, once she's had her real triumph over Saint Arthur.
Blossoms out into a Sister-of-Mercy Saint.
But it's a long time before she really takes anybody in. People kept on thinking her a witch, which she was.
As a matter of fact, unless a woman is held, by man, safe within the bounds of belief, she becomes inevitably a destructive force. She can't help herself. A woman is almost always vulnerable to pity. She can't bear to see anything physical hurt. But let a woman loose from the bounds and restraints of man's fierce belief, in his gods and in himself, and she becomes a gentle devil. She becomes subtly diabolic. The colossal evil of the united spirit of Woman. WOMAN, German woman or American woman, or every other sort of woman, in the last war, was something frightening. As every man knows.
Woman becomes a helpless, would-be-loving demon. She is helpless. Her very love is subtle poison.
Unless a man believes in himself and his gods, genuinely: unless he fiercely obeys his own Holy Ghost; his woman will destroy him. Woman is the nemesis of doubting man. She can't help it.
And with Hester, after Ligeia, woman becomes a nemesis to man. She bolsters him up from the outside, she destroys him from the inside. And he dies hating her, as Dimmesdale did.
Dimmesdale's spirituality had gone on too long, too far. It had become a false thing. He found his nemesis in woman. And he was done for.
Woman is a strange and rather terrible phenomenon, to man. When the subconscious soul of woman recoils from its creative union with man, it becomes a destructive force. It exerts, willy-nilly, an invisible destructive influence. The woman herself may be as nice as milk, to all appearance, like Ligeia. But she is sending out waves of silent destruction of the faltering spirit in men, all the same. She doesn't know it. She can't even help it. But she does it. The devil is in her.
The very women who are most busy saving the bodies of men, and saving the children: these women-doctors, these nurses, these educationalists, these public-spirited women these female saviours: they are all, from the inside, sending out waves of destructive malevolence which eat out the inner life of a man, like a cancer. It is so, it will be so, till men realize it and react to save themselves.
God won't save us. The women are so devilish godly. Men must save themselves in this strait, and by no sugary means either.
A woman can use her sex in sheer malevolence and poison, while she is behaving as meek and good as gold. Dear darling, she is really snow-white in her blamelessness. And all the while she is using her sex as a she-devil, for the endless hurt of her man. She doesn't know it. She will never believe it if you tell her. And if you give her a slap in the face for her fiendishness, she will rush to the first magistrate, in indignation. She is so absolutely blameless, the she-devil, the dear, dutiful creature.
Give her the great slap, just the same, just when she is being most angelic. Just when she is bearing her cross most meekly.
Oh, woman out of bounds is a devil. But it is man's fault. Woman never asked, in the first place, to be cast out of her bit of an Eden of belief and trust. It is man's business to bear the responsibility of belief. If he becomes a spiritual fornicator and liar, like Ligeia's husband and Arthur Dimmesdale, how can a woman believe in him ? Belief doesn't go by choice. And if a woman doesn't believe in a man, she believes, essentially, in nothing. She becomes, willy-nilly, a devil.
A devil she is, and a devil she will be. And most men will succumb to her devilishness.
Hester Prynne was a devil. Even when she was so meekly going round as a sick-nurse. Poor Hester. Part of her wanted to be saved from her own devilishness. And another part wanted to go on and on in devilishness, for revenge. Revenge! REVENGE! It is this that fills the unconscious spirit of woman today. Revenge against man, and against the spirit of man which has betrayed her into unbelief. Even when she is most sweet and a salvationist, she is her most devilish, is woman. She gives her man the sugar-plum of her own submissive sweetness. And when he's taken this sugar-plum in his mouth, a scorpion comes out of it. After he's taken this Eve to his bosom, oh, so loving, she destroys him inch by inch. Woman and her revenge! She will have it, and go on having it, for decades and decades, unless she's stopped. And to stop her you've got to believe in yourself and your gods, your own Holy Ghost, Sir Man; and then you've got to fight her, and never give in. She's a devil. But in the long run she is conquerable. And just a tiny bit of her wants to be conquered. You've got to fight three-quarters of her, in absolute hell, to get at the final quarter of her that wants a release, at last, from the hell of her own revenge. But it's a long last. And not yet.
'She had in her nature a rich, voluptuous, oriental characteristic - a taste for the gorgeously beautiful.' This is Hester. This is American. But she repressed her nature in the above direction. She would not even allow herself the luxury of labouring at fine, delicate stitching. Only she dressed her little sin-child Pearl vividly, and the scarlet letter was gorgeously embroidered. Her Hecate and Astarte insignia.
'A voluptuous, oriental characteristic -' That lies waiting in American women. It is probable that the Mormons are the forerunners of the coming real America. It is probable that men will have more than one wife, in the coming America. That you will have again a half-oriental womanhood, and a polygamy.
The grey nurse, Hester. The Hecate, the hell-cat. The slowly-evolving voluptuous female of the new era, with a whole new submissiveness to the dark, phallic principle.
But it takes time. Generation after generation of nurses and political women and salvationists. And in the end, the dark erection of the images of sex-worship once more, and the newly submissive women. That kind of depth. Deep women in that respect. When we have at last broken this insanity of mental-spiritual consciousness. And the women choose to experience again the great submission.
'The poor, whom she sought out to be the objects of her bounty, often reviled the hand that was stretched to succour them.'
Naturally. The poor hate a salvationist. They smell the devil underneath.
'She was patient - a martyr indeed - but she forebore to pray for her enemies, lest, in spite of her forgiving aspirations, the words of the blessing should stubbornly twist themselves into a curse.'
So much honesty, at least. No wonder the old witch-lady Mistress Hibbins claimed her for another witch.
'She grew to have a dread of children; for they had imbibed from their parents a vague idea of something horrible in this dreary woman gliding silently through the town, with never any companion but only one child.'
'A vague idea!' Can't you see her 'gliding silently'? It's not a question of a vague idea imbibed, but a definite feeling directly received.
But sometimes, once in many days, or perchance in many months, she felt an eye - a human eye - upon the ignominious brand, that seemed to give a momentary relief, as if half her agony were shared. The next instant, back it all rushed again, with a still deeper throb of pain; for in that brief interval she had sinned again. Had Hester sinned alone ?
Of course not. As for sinning again, she would go on all her life silently, changelessly 'sinning'. She never repented. Not she. Why should she? She had brought down Arthur Dimmesdale, that too-too snow-white bird, and that was her life-work.
As for sinning again when she met two dark eyes in a crowd, why, of course. Somebody who understood as she understood.
I always remember meeting the eyes of a gipsy woman, for one moment, in a crowd, in England. She knew, and I knew. What did we know! I was not able to make out. But we knew.
Probably the same fathomless hate of this spiritual conscious society in which the outcast woman and I both roamed like meek-looking wolves. Tame wolves waiting to shake off their tameness. Never able to.
And again, that 'voluptuous, oriental' characteristic that knows the mystery of the ithyphallic gods. She would not betray the ithyphallic gods to this white, leprous-white society of 'lovers'. Neither will I, if I can help it. These leprous-white, seducing, spiritual women, who 'understand' so much. One has been too often seduced, and 'understood'. 'I can read him like a book,' said my first lover of me. The book is in several volumes, dear. And more and more comes back to me the gulf of dark hate and other understanding, in the eyes of the gipsy woman. So different from the hateful white light of understanding which floats like scum on the eyes of white, oh, so white English and American women, with their understanding voices and their deep, sad words, and their profound, good spirits. Pfui!
Hester was scared only of one result of her sin: Pearl. Pearl, the scarlet letter incarnate. The little girl. When women bear children, they produce either devils or sons with gods in them. And it is an evolutionary process. The devil in Hester produced a purer devil in Pearl. And the devil in Pearl will produce - she married an Italian Count - a piece of purer devilishness still.
And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe.
And then from hour to hour we rot and rot.
There was that in the child 'which often impelled Hester to ask in bitterness of heart, whether it were for good or ill that the poor little creature had been born at all'.
For ill, Hester. But don't worry. III is as necessary as good. Malevolence is as necessary as benevolence. If you have brought forth, spawned, a young malevolence, be sure there is a rampant falseness in the world against which this malevolence must be turned. Falseness has to be bitten and bitten, till it is bitten to death. Hence Pearl.
Pearl. Her own mother compares her to the demon of plague, or scarlet fever, in her red dress. But then, plague is necessary to destroy a rotten false humanity.
Pearl, the devilish girl-child, who can be so tender and loving and understanding, and then, when she has understood, will give you a hit across the mouth, and turn on you with a grin of sheer diabolic jeering.
Serves you right, you shouldn't be understood. That is your vice. You shouldn't want to be loved, and then you'd not get hit across the mouth. Pearl will love you: marvellously. And she'll hit you across the mouth: oh, so neatly. And serves you right.
Pearl is perhaps the most modern child in all literature.
Old-fashioned Nathaniel, with his little-boy charm, he'll tell you what's what. But he'll cover it with smarm.
Hester simply hates her child, from one part of herself. And from another, she cherishes her child as her one precious treasure. For Pearl is the continuing of her female revenge on life. But female revenge hits both ways. Hits back at its own mother. The female revenge in Pearl hits back at Hester, the mother, and Hester is simply livid with fury and 'sadness', which is rather amusing.
The child could not be made amenable to rules. In giving her existence a great law had been broken; and the result was a being whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder, or with an order peculiar to themselves, amidst which the point of variety and arrangement was difficult or impossible to discover.
Of course, the order is peculiar to themselves. But the point of variety is this: 'Draw out the loving, sweet soul, draw it out with marvellous understanding; and then spit in its eye.'
Hester, of course, didn't at all like it when her sweet child drew out her motherly soul, with yearning and deep understanding: and then spit in the motherly eye, with a grin. But it was a process the mother had started.
Pearl had a peculiar look in her eyes: 'a look so intelligent yet so inexplicable, so perverse, sometimes so malicious, but generally accompanied by a wild flow of spirits, that Hester could not help questioning at such moments whether Pearl was a human child.'
A little demon! But her mother, and the saintly Dimmesdale, had borne her. And Pearl, by the very openness of her perversity, was more straightforward than her parents. She flatly refuses any Heavenly Father, seeing the earthly one such a fraud. And she has the pietistic Dimmesdale on toast, spits right in his eye: in both his eyes.
Poor, brave, tormented little soul, always in a state of recoil, she'll be a devil to men when she grows up. But the men deserve it. If they'll let themselves be 'drawn', by her loving understanding, they deserve that she shall slap them across the mouth the moment they are drawn. The chickens! Drawn and trussed.
Poor little phenomenon of a modern child, she'll grow up into the devil of a modern woman. The nemesis of weak-kneed modern men, craving to be love-drawn.
The third person in the diabolic trinity, or triangle, of the Scarlet Letter, is Hester's first husband, Roger Chillingworth. He is an old Elizabethan physician, with a grey beard and a long-furred coat and a twisted shoulder. Another healer. But something of an alchemist, a magician. He is a magician on the verge of modern science, like Francis Bacon.
Roger Chillingworth is of the old order of intellect, in direct line from the medieval Roger Bacon alchemists. He has an old, intellectual belief in the dark sciences, the hermetic philosophies. He is no Christian, no selfless aspirer. He is not an aspirer. He is the old authoritarian in man. The old male authority. But without passional belief. Only intellectual belief in himself and his male authority.
Shakespeare's whole tragic wail is because of the downfall of the true male authority, the ithyphallic authority and masterhood. It fell with Elizabeth. It was trodden underfoot with Victoria.
But Chillingworth keeps on the intellectual tradition. He hates the new spiritual aspirers, like Dimmesdale, with a black, crippled hate. He is the old male authority, in intellectual tradition.
You can't keep a wife by force of an intellectual tradition. So Hester took to seducing Dimmesdale.
Yet her only marriage, and her last oath, is with the old Roger. He and she are accomplices in pulling down the spiritual saint.
'Why dost thou smile so at me -' she says to her old, vengeful husband. 'Art thou not like the Black Man that haunts the forest around us? Hast thou not enticed me into a bond which will prove the ruin of my soul?'
'Not thy soul!' he answered with another smile. 'No, not thy soul!'
It is the soul of the pure preacher, that false thing, which they are after. And the crippled physician - this other healer - blackly vengeful in his old, distorted male authority, and the 'loving' woman, they bring down the saint between them.
A black and complementary hatred, akin to love, is what Chillingworth feels for the young, saintly parson. And Dimmesdale responds, in a hideous kind of love. Slowly the saint's life is poisoned. But the black old physician smiles, and tries to keep him alive. Dimmesdale goes in for self- torture, self-lashing his own white, thin, spiritual saviour's body. The dark Chillingworth listens outside the door and laughs, and prepares another medicine, so that the game can go on longer. And the saint's very soul goes rotten. Which is the supreme triumph. Yet he keeps up appearances still.
The black, vengeful soul of the crippled, masterful male, still dark in his authority: and the white ghastliness of the fallen saint! The two halves of manhood mutually destroying one another.
Dimmesdale has a 'coup' in the very end. He gives the whole show away by confessing publicly on the scaffold, and dodging into death, leaving Hester dished, and Roger as it were, doubly cuckolded. It is a neat last revenge.
Down comes the curtain, as in Ligeia's poem.
But the child Pearl will be on in the next act, with her Italian Count and a new brood of vipers. And Hester greyly Abelling, in the shadows, after her rebelling.
It is a marvellous allegory. It is to me one of the greatest allegories in all literature. The Scarlet Letter. Its marvellous under-meaning! And its perfect duplicity.
The absolute duplicity of that blue-eyed Wunderkind of a Nathaniel. The American wonder-child, with his magical allegorical insight.
But even wonder-children have to grow up in a generation or two.
And even SIN becomes stale.