About the Author
Christopher Linforth was a finalist in the ‘Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’ Novel Writing Competition in 2007. He has had work published in ‘Denver Quarterly’, ‘Permafrost’, ‘Camas’, and many other literary journals. He was recently awarded a Fellowship to the Colgate Writers’ Conference (2010) and a scholarship to the New York State Writers’ Conference (2010). For several years he taught writing and literature at Kansas State University and Northern Michigan University. He is currently a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) fellow at Virginia Tech.
Read an Excerpt
The Anthem Guide to Short Fiction
By Christopher Linforth
Wimbledon Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2011 Christopher Linforth
All rights reserved.
We must not always talk in the market place of what happens to us in the forest.
Nathaniel Hawthorne — The Scarlet Letter (1850)
A contemporary of Edgar Allan Poe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) is considered one of the preeminent novelists and short story writers of the nineteenth century. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, to a historically Puritan New England family, the young Hawthorne suffered two catastrophes: his father's death (1808), and a lame leg (1813). Hawthorne's time as an invalid allowed him to read widely, especially William Shakespeare's plays and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Later, he attended Bowdoin College and, after graduating, published his first novel, Fanshawe (1828). In 1842, after a three-year engagement, he married a talented painter and linguist, Sophia Peabody. The couple moved to Concord and had three children. After working as a Custom House worker for several years, Hawthorne and his family moved to the Berkshires. In 1853, college friend Franklin Pierce appointed him as a United States consul, and for seven years, Hawthorne and his family lived in Liverpool, England. On their return to the U.S. they moved back to Concord. Four years later, he died after a period of ill health.
During Hawthorne's career, he became friends with the writers Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville, and he wrote several landmark novels, The Scarlet Letter (1850), The House of the Seven Gables (1851), and The Marble Faun (1860). The historic background for these books allowed Hawthorne to explore past guilt and sin in an innovative context. In tandem with the themes of his novels, Hawthorne's short fiction often comes in the moral tale form, as allegories that exist on two levels: characters and situations are set up to illustrate "good" and "bad" actions. Yet at the same time the stories are replete with bleak romanticism and historical allusion. Collections such as Twice-Told Tales (1837) and Mosses From an Old Manse (1846), from which "Young Goodman Brown" (1835) was later republished in, should be seen in this dual light. The narrative revels in a concoction of episodic drama and Gothic romance, highlighting a moral center examined and replayed through the main characters. Readers should consider temptation and rebellion, public good and private evil, as touchstones for interpretation. Hawthorne's Puritan past, and his guilt for his ancestors' actions during the Salem Witch Trials, combines within this story to provide a narrative complexity that demands multiple readings.
* * *
Young Goodman Brown
Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset into the street at Salem village; but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife. And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap while she called to Goodman Brown.
"Dearest heart," whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, "prithee put off your journey until sunrise and sleep in your own bed tonight. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she's afeard of herself sometimes. Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year."
"My love and my Faith," replied young Goodman Brown, "of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married?"
"Then God bless you!" said Faith, with the pink ribbons; "and may you find all well when you come back."
"Amen!" cried Goodman Brown. "Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee."
So they parted; and the young man pursued his way until, being about to turn the corner by the meeting-house, he looked back and saw the head of Faith still peeping after him with a melancholy air, in spite of her pink ribbons.
"Poor little Faith!" thought he, for his heart smote him. "What a wretch am I to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight. But no, no; 't would kill her to think it. Well, she's a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven."
With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose. He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind. It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveler knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.
"There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree," said Goodman Brown to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him as he added, "What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!"
His head being turned back, he passed a crook of the road, and, looking forward again, beheld the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire, seated at the foot of an old tree. He arose at Goodman Brown's approach and walked onward side by side with him.
"You are late, Goodman Brown," said he. "The clock of the Old South was striking as I came through Boston, and that is full fifteen minutes agone."
"Faith kept me back a while," replied the young man, with a tremor in his voice, caused by the sudden appearance of his companion, though not wholly unexpected.
It was now deep dusk in the forest, and deepest in that part of it where these two were journeying. As nearly as could be discerned, the second traveler was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable resemblance to him, though perhaps more in expression than features. Still they might have been taken for father and son. And yet, though the elder person was as simply clad as the younger, and as simple in manner too, he had an indescribable air of one who knew the world, and who would not have felt abashed at the governor's dinner table or in King William's court, were it possible that his affairs should call him thither. But the only thing about him that could be fixed upon as remarkable was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent. This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light.
"Come, Goodman Brown," cried his fellow traveler, "this is a dull pace for the beginning of a journey. Take my staff, if you are so soon weary."
"Friend," said the other, exchanging his slow pace for a full stop, "having kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose now to return whence I came. I have scruples touching the matter thou wot'st of."
"Sayest thou so?" replied he of the serpent, smiling apart. "Let us walk on, nevertheless, reasoning as we go; and if I convince thee not thou shalt turn back. We are but a little way in the forest yet."
"Too far! Too far!" exclaimed the goodman, unconsciously resuming his walk. "My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs; and shall I be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and kept"—
"Such company, thou wouldst say," observed the elder person, interpreting his pause. "Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that's no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem; and it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip's war. They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path, and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you for their sake."
"If it be as thou sayest," replied Goodman Brown, "I marvel they never spoke of these matters; or, verily, I marvel not, seeing that the least rumor of the sort would have driven them from New England. We are a people of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness."
"Wickedness or not," said the traveler with the twisted staff, "I have a very general acquaintance here in New England. The deacons of many a church have drunk the communion wine with me; the selectmen of divers towns make me their chairman; and a majority of the Great and General Court are firm supporters of my interest. The governor and I, too — But these are state secrets."
"Can this be so?" cried Goodman Brown, with a stare of amazement at his undisturbed companion. "Howbeit, I have nothing to do with the governor and council; they have their own ways, and are no rule for a simple husbandman like me. But, were I to go on with thee, how should I meet the eye of that good old man, our minister, at Salem village? Oh, his voice would make me tremble both Sabbath day and lecture day."
Thus far the elder traveler had listened with due gravity; but now burst into a fit of irrepressible mirth, shaking himself so violently that his snake-like staff actually seemed to wriggle in sympathy.
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" shouted he again and again; then composing himself, "Well, go on, Goodman Brown, go on; but, prithee, don't kill me with laughing."
"Well, then, to end the matter at once," said Goodman Brown, considerably nettled, "there is my wife, Faith. It would break her dear little heart; and I'd rather break my own."
"Nay, if that be the case," answered the other, "e'en go thy ways, Goodman Brown. I would not for twenty old women like the one hobbling before us that Faith should come to any harm."
As he spoke he pointed his staff at a female figure on the path, in whom Goodman Brown recognized a very pious and exemplary dame, who had taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual adviser, jointly with the minister and Deacon Gookin.
"A marvel, truly, that Goody Cloyse should be so far in the wilderness at nightfall," said he. "But with your leave, friend, I shall take a cut through the woods until we have left this Christian woman behind. Being a stranger to you, she might ask whom I was consorting with and whither I was going."
"Be it so," said his fellow traveler. "Betake you to the woods, and let me keep the path."
Accordingly the young man turned aside, but took care to watch his companion, who advanced softly along the road until he had come within a staff's length of the old dame. She, meanwhile, was making the best of her way, with singular speed for so aged a woman, and mumbling some indistinct words — a prayer, doubtless — as she went. The traveler put forth his staff and touched her withered neck with what seemed the serpent's tail.
"The devil!" screamed the pious old lady.
"Then Goody Cloyse knows her old friend?" observed the traveler, confronting her and leaning on his writhing stick.
"Ah, forsooth, and is it your worship indeed?" cried the good dame. "Yes, truly is it, and in the very image of my old gossip, Goodman Brown, the grandfather of the silly fellow that now is. But — would your worship believe it? — my broomstick hath strangely disappeared, stolen, as I suspect, by that unhanged witch, Goody Cory, and that, too, when I was all anointed with the juice of smallage, and cinquefoil, and wolf's bane"—
"Mingled with fine wheat and the fat of a new-born babe," said the shape of old Goodman Brown.
"Ah, your worship knows the recipe," cried the old lady, cackling aloud. "So, as I was saying, being all ready for the meeting, and no horse to ride on, I made up my mind to foot it; for they tell me there is a nice young man to be taken into communion tonight. But now your good worship will lend me your arm, and we shall be there in a twinkling."
"That can hardly be," answered her friend. "I may not spare you my arm, Goody Cloyse; but here is my staff, if you will."
So saying, he threw it down at her feet, where, perhaps, it assumed life, being one of the rods which its owner had formerly lent to the Egyptian magi. Of this fact, however, Goodman Brown could not take cognizance. He had cast up his eyes in astonishment, and, looking down again, beheld neither Goody Cloyse nor the serpentine staff, but his fellow traveler alone, who waited for him as calmly as if nothing had happened.
"That old woman taught me my catechism," said the young man; and there was a world of meaning in this simple comment.
They continued to walk onward, while the elder traveler exhorted his companion to make good speed and persevere in the path, discoursing so aptly that his arguments seemed rather to spring up in the bosom of his auditor than to be suggested by himself. As they went, he plucked a branch of maple to serve for a walking stick, and began to strip it of the twigs and little boughs, which were wet with evening dew. The moment his fingers touched them they became strangely withered and dried up as with a week's sunshine. Thus the pair proceeded, at a good free pace, until suddenly, in a gloomy hollow of the road, Goodman Brown sat himself down on the stump of a tree and refused to go any farther.
"Friend," said he, stubbornly, "my mind is made up. Not another step will I budge on this errand. What if a wretched old woman do choose to go to the devil when I thought she was going to heaven: is that any reason why I should quit my dear Faith and go after her?"
"You will think better of this by and by," said his acquaintance, composedly. "Sit here and rest yourself a while; and when you feel like moving again, there is my staff to help you along."
Without more words, he threw his companion the maple stick, and was as speedily out of sight as if he had vanished into the deepening gloom. The young man sat a few moments by the roadside, applauding himself greatly, and thinking with how clear a conscience he should meet the minister in his morning walk, nor shrink from the eye of good old Deacon Gookin. And what calm sleep would be his that very night, which was to have been spent so wickedly, but so purely and sweetly now, in the arms of Faith! Amidst these pleasant and praiseworthy meditations, Goodman Brown heard the tramp of horses along the road, and deemed it advisable to conceal himself within the verge of the forest, conscious of the guilty purpose that had brought him thither, though now so happily turned from it.
Excerpted from The Anthem Guide to Short Fiction by Christopher Linforth. Copyright © 2011 Christopher Linforth. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Acknowledgments; Preface; Introduction; Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Young Goodman Brown”; Edgar Allan Poe: “The Man of the Crowd”; Leo Tolstoy: “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”; Mark Twain: “The Californian’s Tale”; Ambrose Bierce: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”; Sarah Orne Jewett: “A White Heron”; Kate Chopin: “The Story of an Hour”; Arthur Conan Doyle: “A Scandal in Bohemia”; Anton Chekhov: “The Lady with the Dog”; Charlotte Perkins Gilman: “The Yellow Wallpaper”; Edith Wharton: “The Choice”; O. Henry: “The Ransom of Red Chief”; Rudyard Kipling: “Mowgli’s Brothers”; H.G. Wells: “The Moth” 1866; Stephen Crane: “The Open Boat”; Willa Cather: “A Wagner Matinee”; James Joyce: “Araby”; H.P. Lovecraft: “The Outsider”; F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Winter Dreams”; Robert. E. Howard: “Circus Fists”; Copyrights; Glossary of Literary Terms