Wives of the Dead by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1832)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror October 6, 2015
On the verge of evening, in a rainy twilight, two sisters are united by the dead. They live in their homestead in Bay Province, Massachusetts. We are in the parlor of these two women who have just learned that their husbands have been killed on the same single day—one a seaman, the other a landsman. Mary’s heartbreak is quite different from the feverish Margaret’s reaction. After the mourners leave them to retire for the night, and under the pall of sleep, these two widows discover another reality. There is a fierce knocking at the door, and Margaret is the first to arise and greet her middle-of-the-night caller.
I found the repeated mention of “light” to be significant elements in the story: “placing a lighted lamp upon the hearth” … “the cold light of the lamp threw shadows” …. “the lighted sorrows” … “dim light of the chamber.” Darkness (“a deluge of darkness overwhelmed”) is directly mentioned only once, but suggested in other places. If you are an avid reader of Hawthorne, you know every single word is weighted with precise telling.
Mysteries demand a solution. This mystery of atmosphere and grief goes beyond any ghosts or imaginations. Hawthorne was highly skilled at creating a “waking reality” in his stories (The Haunted Mind). In Wives of the Dead, he suspends us between reality and unreality. And he shrouds the reality, so we must think again. You may find this ending ambiguous. Some fictions reveal good ambiguity, others not so good. Was Hawthorne’s intent clear and the facts unclear creating a good ambiguity, or do you think it is the unreality that is the message in the tale?
Read the Wives of the Dead at EldritchPress.org.
Listen to the audio by Barrow Bookstore on YouTube.com.
Another of Hawthorne’s lesser known short stories is Ethan Brand. This story takes place on Mount Greylock (my favorite mountain). Hawthorne visited there in 1838. The story themes are sin, redemption, damnation. Heart vs. intellect. Bartram is a lime-burner on Mt. Greylock. One night, while working at the kiln that burns limestone, Bartram’s young son, Little Joe, hears a haunting laughter “like wind shaking the boughs of the forest.” A mysterious man appears, Ethan Brand, who is on a quest to discover the “unpardonable sin.” What is this unpardonable sin and where does Ethan Brand find it? This is a devilish yarn, for sure.
Hawthorne’s description here of the mountain is probably the best I’ve read about Mount Greylock.
“Old Greylock was glorified with a golden cloud upon his head. Scattered likewise over the breasts of the surrounding mountains, there were heaps of hoary mist, in fantastic shapes, some of them far down into the valley, others high up towards the summits and still others, of the same family of mist or cloud, hovering in the gold radiance of the upper atmosphere.”
Read Ethan Brand at the EldritchPress.org.
Watch for the release of my supernatural mystery GREYLOCK on October 15, 2015.
Book Cover Reveal coming up this week!
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