By Nancy Bentley
This publication examines fiction and ethnography as comparable kinds for analysing and displaying social existence. targeting the novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, and Edith Wharton, the learn argues that novels and ethnographies collaborated to supply an risky yet strong grasp discourse of 'culture', a discourse that allowed writers to show new social energies and fears into specific forms of authorial services. Crossing quite a number associations (anthropology, literature, museums, legislation) and texts (novels, ethnographies, shuttle books, social theory), this learn permits fiction to take its position in an online of social practices that categorise, reveal, and keep watch over what Wharton calls 'the customs of the country'.
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Extra resources for The Ethnography of Manners: Hawthorne, James and Wharton
Viewed through this medium, our narrative . . may seem not widely different from the texture of all our lives. Side by side with the massiveness of the Roman Past, all matters, that we handle or dream of, now-a-days, look evanescent and visionary alike. (858) The mass of history is so great that finally time itself is displaced. Rome becomes a "visionary" space on which the narrator can write a story of the eternal meaning transmitted through culture. But despite the careful construction of an "airy" narrative texture from the very stones of Rome, Hawthorne goes on to disengage this allegorical diction through scenes that return the full timebound density of the city: Rome, as it now exists, has grown up under the Popes, and seems like nothing but a heap of broken rubbish, thrown into the great chasm between our own days and the Empire, merely to fill it up; and, for the better part of two thousand years, its annals of obscure policies, and wars, and continually recurring misfortunes, seem also but broken rubbish.
Throughout The Marble Faun, the narrator is repeatedly classifying and comparing national traits, with the "gothic race" and the "present Roman character" ranked alongside traits to be found in "New England, or in Russia, or . . in a hut of the Esquimaux" (1166). Like Shelley, Hawthorne does not give the "present Roman character" high praise. But what is more pertinent than the particular way he ranks the traits of diverse collective "characters" is the fact that the act of ranking makes such characters belong to categories of the same order.
But while Miriam's "hidden significance" at one level locates a "great errour" or "fatal weakness" in the human condition, it is also a hidden racial significance. Kenyon, the American sculptor, connects the romance "mystery" of Miriam's past life with a mystery of "breeding": "We do not even know whether she is a countrywoman of ours, or an Englishwoman, or a German. " Not only is Miriam's breeding unknown, but the category of breeding itself presents a notable uncertainty here. English grammar allows for a functional ambiguity about "English breeding": with this sentence structure it is possible that Kenyon means to contrast breeding with blood (she has Anglo-Saxon blood and yet a manner that is Hawthorne and the fetish of race 35 non-Anglo) but equally possible that he means to connect them as synonyms (she has Anglo-Saxon blood but a blood or breeding that seems non-Anglo as well).