Roman Holidays: American Writers and Artists in Nineteenth-Century Italy

Roman Holidays: American Writers and Artists in Nineteenth-Century Italy

by Robert K. Martin

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Featuring essays by twelve prominent American literature scholars, Roman Holidaysexplores the tradition of American travel to Italy and makes a significant contribution to the understanding of nineteenth-century American encounters with Italian culture and, more specifically, with Rome. The increase in American travel to Italy during the nineteenth century


Featuring essays by twelve prominent American literature scholars, Roman Holidaysexplores the tradition of American travel to Italy and makes a significant contribution to the understanding of nineteenth-century American encounters with Italian culture and, more specifically, with Rome. The increase in American travel to Italy during the nineteenth century was partly a product of improved conditions of travel. As suggested in the title, Italy served nineteenth-century writers and artists as a kind of laboratory site for encountering Others and “other” kinds of experience. No doubt Italy offered a place of holiday—a momentary escape from the familiar—but the journey to Rome, a place urging upon the visitor a new and more complex sense of history, also forced a reexamination of oneself and one's identity. Writers and artists found their religious, political, and sexual assumptions challenged. Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun has a prominent place in this collection: as Henry James commented in his study of Hawthorne, the book was “part of the intellectual equipment of the Anglo-Saxon visitor to Rome.” The essayists also examine works by James, Fuller, Melville, Douglass, Howells, and other writers as well as such sculptors as Hiram Powers, William Wetmore Story, and Harriet Hosmer. Bringing contemporary concerns about gender, race, and class to bear upon nineteenth-century texts, Roman Holidays is an especially timely contribution to nineteenth-century American studies.

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ISBN: 978-0-87745-782-4

Chapter One Richard H. Millington



Much of the interesting recent work on The Marble Faun has been engaged in one way or another in describing the cultural location of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Rome: as the setting for a program of middle-class self-assertion via art worship (Richard Brodhead); as a place to engage, through the encounter with Catholicism, issues of civil and cultural order and to perform acts of national self-definition or self-defense (Robert Levine, Jenny Franchot); as a site for the expression and inter rogation of ethnographic and racial fantasy (Nancy Bentley); as a map of erotic tension and the seismic register of an imploding domesticity (T. Walter Herbert). I also have a way of saying that The Marble Faun is more about America than Italy: Beginning with the observation that Hawthorne's Rome is a place where-as regards the book's main characters-nobody does much work but nobody has much fun, I will be proposing that the book is in part Hawthorne's attempt to describe and interrogate the emergence of leisure as a definitive-as perhaps the definitive-middle-class cultural space. Site of his own laborious vacationing, Hawthorne's Rome is located deep in leisure territory, but his Roman novel is also about what it might mean for that territory to mark out the site of meaning more generally for genteel American culture. In order to make sense of this claim, I will attempt three things in this essay: to provide a brief history of the emergence of leisure in antebellum America, together with an analysis of the meanings that reside in this distinctive cultural space; to describe Hawthorne's investment in-indeed his advocacy for-the idea of leisure earlier in his career; and to explore the interpretive consequences of seeing The Marble Faun in the light of this new cultural configuration.

On or about August 8, 1826, the American vacation was invented. The Boston newspaper proprietor Nathan Hale, writing to his father Enoch-neo-Puritan minister of the rural town of Westhampton, Massachusetts-proposes "making an excursion of a few days, in company with Mr. Webster and his family, along the south shore as far as Sandwich, where we think of leaving our families while we proceed to the cape, a part of the country which has some peculiar features, and which I have a curiosity to see. Sandwich is a very pleasant place to retire to in hot weather, to enjoy the fresh sea air, that sort of recreation which serves to invigorate one after a long confinement in town." Some years later, in 1841, Hale's wife Sarah, reflecting on twenty-five years of marriage, writes in her diary: "I feel that the turmoil and hurry of life is over with me, and I feel thankful that I have more leisure and can make a more regular disposition of my time, than when the care of very young children occupied me incessantly-I must strive that this leisure may not be wasted-With fewer causes of irritability, may I more carefully govern my temper ... and whatever else oh my God is wrong in me, wilt thou enable me to strive against and correct it." In 1846, their daughter Lucretia, employing a fully developed romantic vocabulary of pleasure, writes to her mother from Newport: "We drove upon the beach [after bathing] this aft., and the surf was glorious-the fog had all dispersed, and the water was deliciously blue.... This is all out of the way-for the principal thing of the place that we have seen, was last night's hop. To me the greatest charm was the most magnificent music, that was played, the most glorious band I ever heard."

We witness, in this twenty-year sequence of a family's moments of recreation, a kind of vernacular history of the emergence of leisure as a distinctive and definitive feature of American middle-class culture. The minister-grandfather, silent in this exchange, made family visits but never took vacations; he worries in his letters not about access to rural pleasures-the rural is just home to him-but about the diversion of his neighbors' attention from their labor of soul-saving. Whereas Enoch Hale's world is a tight, coherent, theocentric circle, his urbane son, his rural boyhood perhaps reverberating in his mind, has divided his world into zones of work and zones of release, the latter a therapeutic antidote to the town's "confinement." For his wife Sarah, "leisure" implies a space doubly interior, a private, domestic location where her newfound time may be spent working on the inner condition of her character; yet for their daughter Lucretia, deepening her soul through the consumption of the "delicious" experiences of the resort, the experience of leisure is no less a part of the labor of self-construction, and all three of our vacationers might be saidat once to inherit and transform the "place" once occupied by Enoch Hale's salvation-focused self-examination. Taken together, these moments begin to describe a new and significant cultural space in antebellum America: the realm of leisure, a terrain-worldly and domestic, pleasurable and morally fraught, sacred and consumeristic-at once set apart from workaday life and where the deeper, truer, richer life came to reside. This is also, of course, the cultural space occupied by the reading of fiction-in a sense, it might be said to constitute the marketplace for novel writers-and one of its most advanced outposts is the Rome of the American traveler.

Working from various perspectives, historians have identified some of the key features of leisure's emergence in antebellum America. Daniel T. Rodgers, in his classic The Work Ethic in Industrial America, 1850-1920, finds in mid-century defenses and celebrations of leisure the beginnings of a moral reorientation of middle-class life: A narrative that located moral value in ceaseless effort and an ethos of vigilant self-discipline gives way-in response to the regimentation of industrial labor, the alienation of early "white-collar" workers, and the manic, unhealthful "busyness" of American commercial life more generally-to a sense that a life's meanings will come to repose in the arts and practices that define leisure and set it apart from everyday life. Karen Halttunen and Stuart Blumin have seen the behaviors and institutions associated with leisure as participating in the definition of a distinctive urban middle class and as providing occasions for the demonstration of such a social identity. Other historians, such as Dona Brown, have shown how the kinds of emotions about nature and culture we overhear in Lucretia Hale's letter are practiced and codified by means of one of the earliest and most popular of leisure practices, "scenic tourism," which becomes another arena in which the experience of a certain kind of meaning becomes as well the expression of a class identity. Rodgers's work in particular helps us see how powerfully and variously the idea of "leisure" reverberates through the subsequent cultural history of nineteenth-century America-that we might glimpse it not only in the taste for European travel The Marble Faun exemplifies and forecasts but in S. Weir Mitchell's "rest cure" and the concept of the therapeutic; in the conception of reform at Jane Addams's Hull House, where many activities sought to create a realm of elevating leisure for working-class people; in the popular fantasy that constructed plant at ion slaves as a leisure class before and after the Civil War.

Relying both on the empirical instance the Hale family offers us and on this historical work, I want to emphasize some particular features of this development in cultural history-features that will, I think, allow us to see how significantly the emergence of leisure shapes Hawthorne's career and how much at stake the meanings of leisure are in The Marble Faun. First, it is crucial to see leisure not simply as a set of particular activities conducted in new kinds of places but as what I want to call a cultural "space," an imaginative location configured by the possibilities for meaning-making operative there; thus, for all their apparent differences, both Sarah Hale's private space of contemplation and her daughter's Newport beach should be understood as sites of leisure, where moments of apparent ease will come to pay off in the deepening or enrichment of character. Second, no matter how far one travels to experience leisure, it is always simultaneously an internal experience, valuable both as an occasion for transforming the self and as an opportunity to express that self's power to produce the exquisite inner reverberations that indicate gentility. Finally, this emergent leisure territory, when conceived of as a cultural space, has two somewhat contradictory features: It tends to configure American life as bifurcated, split between a place of significance (leisure) and a place of postponement (workaday life); yet it imagines a fertile relation between those two places, in the sense that a visit to the realm of leisure might reanimate or restore one's capacity to live meaningfully outside it.

Thus conceived, the realm of leisure can be understood as the venue for a certain kind of ideological labor, most notably the intertwined processes of forming the self and defining that self as genteel. But the example of the Hales will remind us that leisure involves labor in another, more concrete way as well. These Hales are Hawthorne's people, members of a northeastern elite defined less by cash-like Hawthorne before the Liverpool consulship, they are often strapped for funds-than by their cultural capital, most notably their stirring sense of the import of their own acts and sensibilities. And like him, they not only occupy from time to time this "space" of leisure but are its operatives: Lucretia writes successful children's books and is a pioneer in the kindergarten movement, a later expression of leisure's revaluation of "play"; her sister Susan is an artist and publishes an edition of her travel letters; their well-known brother Edward Everett Hale combines the careers of minister, novelist, and editor. Their investment in leisure-their working of it, we might say-reminds us that leisure not only names a locus of value different from the world of work but provides the ground for a new set of careers, Hawthorne's among them.

To identify the cultural space of leisure as one of antebellum middleclass culture's most characteristic creations is to begin to see how fully Hawthorne's career as a writer is bound up in it. I have already suggested that Hawthorne is of this sphere in two ways: as a member of the class that invents and presides over this territory, and as a writer who produces work designed to be consumed in this sphere. But Hawthorne's attachment to leisure is at once more concrete and more conceptual than I have yet suggested. First, as Dona Brown has established, the "romantic" landscape tourism that emerged as one of leisure's earliest definitive activities opened career opportunities for writers and artists able to promote or describe this activity or to capture or define the range of experiences belonging to it. Brown reminds us that Hawthorne exercised this opportunity with considerable energy and some self-ironic acuity. Several of his early sketches follow the newly established itinerary of scenic travel and, still more interestingly, comment on the ideological phenomenon he is both witnessing and promoting. Thus, "Sketches from Memory" includes an account of a pre-ascent evening at Ethan Crawford's famous inn at the White Mountains, featuring an assortment of tourists and-most notably-a young poet, sporting opera glasses, who produces an all-too-facile specimen of romantic verse for the inn's register; "My Visit to Niagara" not only observes his fellow tourists' highly variable encounters with sublimity but records his own comic but ultimately successful struggle to rescue a significant encounter with the falls from the effects of what we would now call their overhyping. Several of his stories, "The Ambitious Guest" and' 'The Great Stone Face," participate more straightforwardly in the endowment of particular touristic sites with a kind of imaginative value, derived, in these cases, from a famous natural disaster and popular legend, and Brown instructively cites Hawthorne's letter to Franklin Pierce in which he humorously acknowledges the careeristic agenda of his travels, the hope that his northern tour will yield a book "by which I intend to acquire an (undoubtedly) immense literary reputation."

If Hawthorne emerges, in some of his writing, as a characteristically self-aware purveyor of this nascent cultural tourism, his conceptual commitment to the idea of leisure runs deeper and shapes the underlying conception of his artistic project as well as its marketing strategies. Striking affinities between leisure's alternative geography and Hawthorne's conception of romance suggest that we might see Hawthorne, through his writings, as a prescient, deeply committed espouser of the values and possibilities of the leisure realm. Both in the prefaces and at moments of revelation or transformation in the fiction proper, Hawthorne invariably evokes romance as a distinctive location, a place that, by virtue of its nearness to but difference from the environs of customary life, permits a deepened version of the kind of restoration-intellectual, imaginative, psychological-that leisure's advocates had in mind for the wearied middle-class brain-worker. Although this affinity between the restorative realms of leisure and romance is implicit in the kinds of activities and places-intimate conversation, the atmospherics of the moonlit study, even, in the case of "The Custom House," losing one's job-associated with the creation of romance in the prefaces, it is in "The Old Manse" that the affinity between the activities of leisure and the work of the writer is most fully established and explored.

A reader alert to the geography of leisure will recognize "The Old Manse" as a compendium of the cultural forms, attitudes, and rewards that belong to the antebellum canon of relaxation; indeed, at the level of both concrete actions and intellectual exploration, this meandering essay-or, more properly, "sketch"-is organized according to the principles of leisure. This is true, in several ways, at the level of literary form: As a kind of antechamber to the tales and sketches within (and to the contemplative or interpretive experiences they will invite), it seems to place the act of reading within the domestic space it describes, and the reader is first evoked as a kind of visitor to the premises. "The Old Manse" is, quite concretely and systematically, constructed in the touristic mode, with Hawthorne construing himself as both host and guide-amply furnished with anecdotes-showing us around the house and grounds (as though anticipating the house's present-day life as a museum), conducting a more formal "sight-showing" ("Old Manse," 1,125) of the nearby battleground, evoking a vacation like excursion upon the Assabeth River, dropping the names of local celebrities. But Hawthorne uses this essayistic version of one of leisure's standard literary forms (the guidebook emerges into cultural prominence in America in the 1830s and 1840s) to evoke the larger ambitions of his fiction and with them the deeper values and intellectual possibilities that underwrite leisure's claims to cultural value.

The piece is amply stocked with passages that claim the Old Manse and its environs as part of a territory distinct from and alternative to the workaday world. The Concord River, at the edge of the house's backyard, is described as what can only be called a leisure river, notable for its exemption from labor-"While all things else are compelled to subserve some useful purpose, it idles its sluggish life away, in lazy liberty, without turning a solitary spindle, or affording even water-power enough to grind the corn that grows upon its banks"-and celebrated for its aesthetic value: "In the light of a calm and gold en sunset, it becomes lovely beyond expression; the more lovely for the quietude that so well accords with the hour, when even the wind, after blustering all day long, usually hushes itself to rest" ("Old Manse," 1,126). Later, Hawthorne testifies to the superior tastiness of fruit that someone else has planted, denying the old work-ethic saw that "toil sweetens the bread it earns"-though in the next instant, forecasting the forms of suburban recreation, he celebrates the pleasures of working in the garden ("Old Manse," 1,131). This last moment-in which an assertion is made, explored, and then modified or abandoned for its opposite-can be identified as the prevailing intellectual rhythm of "The Old Manse": The sketch is full of reconsiderations, in which a proposition or feeling is held up to the light, imaginatively inhabited, perhaps discarded-but without the need of definitive refutation. The effect of this sketch, with its sustained evocation of the activities and attitudes belonging to leisure, is to create, in the terrain of its reading, a space that is restorative, meditative, and conceptually open and challenging: a literary version of the leisure realm. "The Old Manse" tellingly reserves its hostility for the theological writing stashed in the house's attic study-a hostility engendered, we may infer, by the excessively teleological quality, the antileisureliness, of the sermon and the tract.


Excerpted from ROMAN HOLIDAYS Copyright © 2002 by University of Iowa Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

 Robert Martin is professor of English and chair of the department at the Université de Montréal.

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