Friday, April 01, 2005

On Hawthorne's "Devil In Manuscript."

"The Devil In Manuscript" is a very short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I just wanted to write a few observations of it. The story is written in first person, by an individual who is observing an author. The author is frustrated, he has tried repeatedly to get his tales published and finds no takers in the literary marketplace. His work also gives him a horrible sense of dread that the devil is in it, and so he decides to burn his manuscripts.
Now Hawthorne spends much time at the beginning of the tale describing the cold night. It is snowless, yet it is bitterly cold, the observer tells us as he is on the way to the author's office. The author has an unnamed mentor, a jurist who is away hearing other cases. So the two are alone.
The tales burn in the fire, leaving white ashes. As they burn, the observer and author can see the faces of characters, and even a hint of the devil. Then, the ashes are swept by some unseen force up the chimney, and then every building in the neighborhood, perhaps even in the town, either is on fire or in danger of catching fire. People are running around hysterically, furniture is being thrown from windows. It's a traumatic scene.
In the story, Hawthorne refers to the alarm the fire causes, but does not mention any bells as I recall. Yet the imagery evokes the third part of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells." And then there is a reference to an "iron tongue." It reminded me of the fourth part of "The Bells." I'm under the impression that these two works influenced each other.

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