Among Hawthorne’s primary themes, the visual arts have usually been regarded as an afterthought and have only been examined to elucidate his own personal philosophy. Hawthorne’s own contemporaries derided him for his ‘mediocre’ aesthetics and that view has been taken as received wisdom up to the present day. This study reexamines Hawthorne’s aesthetics, and suggests that he was much more familiar with the art and artists of the time than has previously been acknowledged by critics. He developed his own eclectic and transatlantic view of art, a view which incorporated decorative arts like embroidery, while maintaining a modest estimation of his own talents.
This book examines the full range of visual artists whom Hawthorne portrays. It argues that these portrayals illuminate the artist’s dilemma of being fettered by New England Puritanism while at the same time being attracted to the richness and depth of both Victorian aesthetics and the artistic sense of Old World Catholicism. The ambiguous destinies of his artist-characters include misunderstandings and disputes, while at the same time they suggest a reconciliation of the conflicting sentiments and transatlantic perspectives of the writer himself.