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Literature and Spirituality in the English-Speaking World

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Edited By Kathie Birat and Brigitte Zaugg

This collection of essays focuses on the role of spirituality in American literature through an examination of the multiple ways in which a deep engagement with the spiritual has shaped and affected literature in the Americas (three of the essays involve Canadian and Caribbean literature). The essays in the first section explore the intimate links between the spiritual and the social as they are manifested in forms of fiction like fantasy, science fiction, and the Christian fundamentalist fiction of Jerry B. Jenkins. The second section looks at the ways in which poetry has allowed writers as diverse as Emily Dickinson, Ellen Glasgow, Fanny Howe and Leonard Cohen to use language as a tool for exploring their complex relation to the spiritual seen in terms of radical otherness, or of exile, or of the search for common ground as human beings. The final section approaches spirituality as a defining element of the American experience, from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Toni Morrison and Paul Auster.
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“Fire-Worship”: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Spirituality of Fire: Stéphanie Carrez

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Stéphanie CARREZUniversity of Maine, France

In “Fire-Worship,” a tale Nathaniel Hawthorne first published in 1843, the narrator muses over the “almost universal exchange of the open fire for the cheerless and ungenial stove” (CE 10: 138)1 and praises fire as an indispensable element in human life. The short story has been frequently dismissed by critics as “superficial and imperfect” (Crews 10) and thus often neglected. However, Millicent Bell insightfully suggests reading the tale in a religious light, arguing that the title invites us to adopt such a perspective. She also points to the fact that there are specific references to Zoroastrian fire worship in the text and adds that Nathaniel Hawthorne had written a short piece on “Fire-Worshippers” in the American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge in 1837. She then interprets the tale as an allegory in which the ancient fire worship stands for the old Puritan religion (Bell 31-39). Beyond this parallel, I would like to suggest that the focus on Zoroastrian religious beliefs in “Fire-Worship” is more than a mere tool supporting the allegory. To substantiate this claim, one may turn to the introductory sketch to “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” a tale published only a year later. The narrator presents a French author named Monsieur de l’Aubépine2 and lists some of his works, among which “Le Culte du Feu,” which he describes as “a folio volume of ponderous research into the religion and ritual of the old Persian Ghebers” (CE 10: 92). The tongue-in-cheek...

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