Fanshawe – My First Hawthorne

Editor’s note: A unedited review from the vault—one of the few that’s aged reasonably well. Apparently I was Team Edward back then… no, not that Edward….

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I finished reading my first book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, yay!! 🙂

Fanshawe by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Harley College, circa 1748…pre-Revolution America. Two very different students—the amiable Edward Walcott and the studious Fanshawe—fall in love with Ellen Langton, the young lady who comes to stay with the president of the college, Doctor Melmoth, and his wife. But after Ellen meets a mysterious stranger, and when she is later found to be missing, both heroes set out through the countryside to find her, one ready to fight for her, the other ready to sacrifice his life to save her.

Hawthorne, as I mentioned before, seemed to hate this story later on, and I can see reasons why he might. The heroine is cliche, the climax is a bit anti-climactic, and he seems to use the same word more than once within a page or two. There are two things about his writing in this story that I thought were cool, though:

1. The villain is often called “the angler”, and “angler” means both “One who fishes with a hook.” or “A scheming person” ( In the context of this book, both meanings apply!

2. Only one character, IIRC, gets a long description, and that is Hugh Crombie, the landlord of an inn. That Hawthorne should spend so much time on him might seem annoying at first, but in relation to the story it makes perfect sense. Generally speaking, instead of describing Hugh’s character through his actions, Hawthorne explains his actions through the summary of his life and character. Because of the nature of Hugh’s role in the story (which I won’t tell), this is a very effective writer’s technique.

Perhaps the most interesting element in the story was the characters; in particular, the two main hero characters. Neither of them are perfect, but overall, and despite the title of this story, I think I like Edward better than Fanshawe.

Edward is confident, brave, and smart (at one point in the story, he makes some observations that are much like Holmes’s deductions!); he’s really cares for Ellen, but still acts kindly towards Fanshawe, his “rival”. He’s a bit proud, and goes pretty crazy in one part of the story, but he seems to mean well and ends up changing for the better.

Fanshawe is pretty much Edward’s opposite. He’s quiet, keeps to himself, and has studied so much that his health suffers as a result. He seems to fall in love with Ellen at about first sight, and he is determined to do what’s best for her, even at his own loss. I’m pretty sure I’d like him better, maybe more than Edward, if it weren’t for his sudden infatuation with Ellen; it makes it a bit hard to sympathise with him, especially as Ellen, though good and beautiful, does not come across as being a particularly interesting or extraordinary person. Fanshawe’s heroism and the gloominess of his life also seem a bit forced, or something. They’re there, sort of as if just for the sake of being there.

I suppose I ought to mention Ellen, because she might well be called the main character of the story. I can’t say I liked her very much. I got a bit irked when, later in the story, she seemed to have practically forgotten about Edward.

Finally, I must mention the scenery and setting. For those of us who love the beautiful settings of English literature, Hawthorne brings the American countryside up to, or almost up to, the same level; the valley, the river, the forests, and the storm are all nicely described, and in them is a certain drama, rather like what one would expect from Bronte (although maybe not quite as dramatic). It makes me grateful that we have an American author who made our scenery sound so wonderful, as it actually is, IMO. Furthermore, it’s not a cowboy story, a Civil War story, or even a Revolutionary War story; Hawthorne wrote a good, fairly dramatic story without the aid of historic conflicts, and, for an American story, I find that quite impressive indeed.

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    Image you used in your post is fabulous

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mudpuddle Avatar

    i haven’t read enough Hawthorne to have much of an opinion, but this sounds quite interesting. tx, i’ll check it out…


    1. Marian Avatar

      I don’t seem to have mentioned it in the review, but it’s a short one (a small novella). 🙂


  3. Cleo @ Classical Carousel Avatar
    Cleo @ Classical Carousel

    I’ve heard that Hawthorne can be difficult so it’s encouraging to read your review. After I get some Twain under my belt, I’ll have to add him too!


    1. Marian Avatar

      This followed by Blithedale Romance were a good intro to him, I found! By far his most readable novels.


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