|Portrait of James Thomas Fields (1817-1881),
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864),
and William Davis Ticknor (1810-1864).
Over on Instagram, I’d mentioned I’ve been getting into Hawthorne’s short stories again. He’s a favorite author of mine, and when I read the collection Twice Told Tales (already five years ago, wow!), I was blown away by the craft of his shorter works. I finally broke down and bought the complete Tales and Sketches, and for my first reading chose “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” one of the more famous ones.
The story is set up simply enough: a young man and clergyman’s son, Robin, sets out one day to seek his fortune. More specifically, he leaves the countryside and arrives in Boston in order to get in touch with Major Molineux, a relative who had once offered to help him get started in life.
It’s a dark, gloomy night in Boston. Robin goes from door to door, inquiring for his kinsman. Everyone laughs at him, while he wanders through the streets looking for at least one towns-person who will listen to him seriously. Finally, he meets a man who tells him to wait by the church, because Major Molineux will soon arrive. Shortly after, Robin hears the voices of a crowd in the next street. When they at last turn the corner, he is unprepared for what he sees.
For such a simple, subtle buildup, this story ends with a punchline I was not expecting. I’ve left out the ending to avoid spoilers, but in short, it was disturbing. At the same time, this twist opens up the story to a larger realm of questions, just as it closes this peek into Robin’s life. This is what makes Hawthorne’s style so powerful, even as it seems fairly conventional on the surface.
Have you read any of Hawthorne’s short stories, and if so, what are your favorites?