College of Arts and Sciences

Department of English

ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance

Evan Carton

"Millennial Letters: or, Monsieur Hawthorne, C'est Nous"

As a group, academic studies of Hawthorne over the past decade are best and most interestingly understood as expressions of Hawthorne's profound implication in the profession of American literature--expressions, that is, of our vexed identification of Hawthorne's professional project and cultural position with our own. John Guillory and others have examined the complex of circumstances--some specifically disciplinary, some more broadly cultural, some geopolitical--that have produced an ongoing "legitimation crisis" in literary studies. Carton here juxtaposes five books on Hawthorne published in the 1990s--Sacvan Bercovitch's Office of "The Scarlet Letter"; Lauren Berlant's Anatomy of National Fantasy: Hawthorne, Utopia, and Everyday Life; Richard H. Millington's Practicing Romance: Narrative Form and Cultural Engagement in Hawthorne's Fiction; Michael Dunne's Hawthorne's Narrative Strategies; and Alison Easton's Making of the Hawthorne Subject--to advance his two principal claims: 1) that the writings and the figure of Hawthorne characteristically activate or exacerbate millennial Americanists' experience of professional crisis; and 2) that this experience, while it affects and provokes different critics differently, is the common (if not always conscious) context and subtext of contemporary Hawthorne criticism.

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