Man-made menopause and architectural embodiment in Herman Melville’s “I and My Chimney” AND “A Disembodied Listener”: Hawthorne’s mesmeric narrator in The House of the Seven Gables

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jamie Watson (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Maria Carla Sánchez

Abstract: Herman Melville’s 1856 short story “I and My Chimney” illustrates a dispute between an old man and his wife about the domestic inconveniences caused by the chimney centrally located in their home. The old man desires to preserve his chimney at all costs. Meanwhile, the wife seeks to reduce the size of the chimney for mobility within the home and the comfort of her family. R. Bruce Bickley, Jr. and Clark Davis, among others, view the old man’s wife as emasculating. However, the narrator is responsible for many of the physical and mental conditions that limit his wife’s agency. Furthermore, these conditions cause her to resemble the stereotypical nineteenth-century menopausal woman. I argue that, through this narrative, Melville suggests that menopausal symptoms are male-constructed rather than biological. In order to further support my argument that Melville does not characterize the wife as a tyrant, I compare Melville’s story with Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s “Revolt of ‘Mother’”—a critically-accepted feminist text. Freeman’s female protagonist experiences a similar plight to the wife in “I and My Chimney,” though scholars have interpreted both women in significantly different ways. This intertextual approach shows similarities between the short stories and encourages a new reading of Melville’s story that shows the depth of Melville’s understanding of gender, sexuality, and aging. AND Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables thrives on its engagement with mesmerism, a pseudoscience Hawthorne feared but often explored throughout his fiction. Much like a mesmerist, the novel’s narrator controls the Pyncheons and his readers using spellbinding language. Alongside this commanding language, the narrator suggests he is both embodied and disembodied, singular and ubiquitous. While scholars have examined Hawthorne’s recurrent use of mesmerism, this essay is the first to examine how Hawthorne’s narrator influences Seven Gables’ plot as a mesmeric character. In this essay, I discuss Hawthorne’s narrative style, how his narrators are embodied, and how mesmerism influences how we interpret these narrators. Then, I examine how the narrator of Seven Gables controls his readers, actively threatens the Pyncheon family, and characterizes himself as a threat to the safety of both characters and readers. Through this analysis, I hope to further the ongoing critical conversation regarding Hawthorne’s use of narrative mesmerism and its interconnectedness with the structure, style, and theme of the novel. Moreover, this essay urges scholars to further question Hawthorne’s narrators in his mesmeric stories and the evolving role of the narrator in nineteenth-century American fiction.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2017
Gender, Hawthorne, Literature, Melville, Narration, Sexuality
Melville, Herman, $d 1819-1891. $t I and my chimney
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, $d 1804-1864. $t House of the seven gables
Melville, Herman, $d 1819-1891. $x Criticism and interpretation
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, $d 1804-1864. $x Criticism and interpretation
Aging in literature
Sex role in literature
Mesmerism in literature

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