Nathaniel Hawthorne’s: the Artist of the Beautiful

As put by Gloria Ehrlich in Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Study of the Short Fiction, “At the time of writing, Nathaniel Hawthorne was facing the impracticality of his literary vocation as the economic support for his growing family” (Bunge 46). Nathaniel Hawthorne felt misunderstood as an artist and used his story The Artist of the Beautiful to represent what he was going through. In the Artist of the Beautiful Owen Warland has a love and need for beauty, where is everyone else feels the need for objects to be useful.

As one critic mentioned, “Warland has a disinterested search for the beautiful against the criteria of utility and self-interest assumed by society” (Fogle 70). Owen does not feel need to create something for a purpose other than it being delicate, and gently crafted, and all of society thinks he is insane for making trinkets with no use. A crucial scene in the story is when upon receiving the butterfly Annie asks Owen if it is alive only with Danforth to respond “Do you suppose any mortal has skill enough to make a butterfly, or would put himself to the trouble of making one, when any child may catch a score of them in a summer’s afternoon? (Hawthorne 174). Robert just assumed that it had to be a real butterfly because he does not understand why anyone would go to all of the effort of creating something that they could easily just go and catch without any trouble, but making the butterfly brought great joy to Owen because he loves that he is able to make beautiful things, and the process that goes into making it. Owen does not need a reason to make things except for the simple purpose of being able to make something extraordinary and pleasing to the eye.

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Owen was sent to a watchmaker by his family to put some of his gift to good use, but while working under Peter Hovenden rather than repairing clocks he instead did things such as make them play music at each hour. Just as Hawthorne said “He had always been remarkable for his delicate ingenuity…But it was always for the purpose of grace, and never any mockery of the useful” (Hawthorne 161). Both Hawthorne and Warland were misunderstood with their work, doing it for the sole purpose of bringing themselves enjoyment while the rest of the world expected them to produce something for them too.

Owen Warland and Robert Danforth are meant to symbolize different types of manhood. As Leland S. Person said “The Artist of the Beautiful also represents competing models of manhood, registering some of the anxiety Hawthorne felt after his marriage” (Person 58). Richard Fogle believes they both represent abstract ideas, “Warland becomes the quest for ideal, and Danforth, physical strength” (Fogle 81). Like Hawthorne, Owen is fragile, creative, and very encompassed in his work, Robert is manly, strong, and has a family, the person that Hawthorne wanted to be for his family.

One critic suggests that by making Owen’s physical dimensions small and delicate was a “bizarre way of expressing the insubstantiality he felt vis-a-vis men of action” (Ehrlich 147). This statement suggest that in reality Nathaniel Hawthorne didn’t feel the need to be a Robert Danforth like manly character, but rather disliked him, although he could still dislike manly characters and feel pressured by his family to become one. As Fogle stated, “Danforth is superior to Warland as strength is to weakness, and he has the advantage of sturdy masculinity.

In a sense he is a greater artist” (Fogle 87), this critic is implying that by actually creating and molding materials together, being a blacksmith, Danforth is actually a greater artist than Warland who puts into consideration ideality and beauty. It is not clear what the many characteristic differences between Danforth and Warland are meant to symbolize, but one can infer that Hawthorne felt pressure to be a materialist like Robert Danforth.

There is a great deal of evidence that suggests Owens’s struggles as an artist are also related to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s. In the story after going through a brief illness Owen was even more determined to finish his butterfly than ever one critic noted that at the Hawthorne was forty years old and “had not yet validated his artistic vocation with a substantial book was surely invested in the long disquisition on time, and death” (Ehlrich 148).

Hawthorne was very worried that he would not achieve success or be appreciated before his death, as was Owen when he submerged himself in his work after becoming sick. “In putting Owen through phases of creativity and decline, periods of energetic invention, and then successive destructions of his work followed by intervals of lethargy Hawthorne was examining his own oscillations” (Elhirch 147), Hawthorne put Owen through brief periods of decline in inspiration  as a therapeutic way to make himself feel better about doing the same thing.

Fogle stated that “The artist is in some degree Hawthorne himself, and therefore it is all the more necessary that he avoid manipulating the fictional truth in his favor” (Fogle 86) meaning that the reason Hawthorne did not give his antagonist everything he deserved, for example the love of Annie, is because he is in fact Hawthorne himself and it would be an inaccurate portrayal if Owen got everything the easy way and needed no sympathy.

Just as Gloria Elhrich said “Hawthorne was trying to work out serious personal and vocational problems in the story” (147) by creating a main character very similar to himself Nathaniel Hawthorne was able to deal with many of issues and have someone to relate to. “In this odd little story we can see the forty-year old Hawthorne reviving his old antagonist in order to rally himself for a renewed assault on the citadel of fame and rehearsing various prospective scripts for the outcome” (Ehlrich 149).

Nathaniel Hawthorne formulated Owen Warland to be the perfect character to embody his struggle with societies understanding of his love for writing, dealing with a family, and many other personal problems. By creating Owen he better prepared himself for the outcome of his fame and writing and was able to withstand all of his dilemmas he was dealing with during the time his writing career started to take off. Works Cited

Bunge, Nancy L. Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993. Print. Fogle, Richard H. Hawthorne’s Fiction: The Light ; The Dark. University of Oklahoma, 1952. Print. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tales. Ed. James McIntosh. Markham: W. W. Norton ; Company, 1987. Print. Person, Leland S. The Cambridge Introduction to Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print.