Coale explores the profound influence that the mesmerist and
spiritualist 'craze' of the 1840s and 1850s had on Hawthorne's artistic
vision and fictional techniques.
Nathaniel Hawthorne despised both mesmerism and spiritualism, viewing
these pseudosciences as new incarnations of witchcraft, in which the master-slave
relationship overwhelms all others. Nevertheless, even though he regarded
the psychological paradigm behind these pseudosciences as morally repellent,
he also, as Samuel Chase Coale convincingly shows, recognized its accuracy.
In creating what he called romances, Hawthorne employed his own mesmerist-like
strategies and thus created texts that participate in the very medium he
abhorred. In effect, Coale concludes, Hawthorne's romances constitute a
form of mesmeric expression themselves. Coale's examination of the processes
of mesmerism- the creation of the trance, the entry into its dreamlike
state, the psychology of idolatry produced by this procedure- clearly reveals
the affinities between mesmerism and Hawthorne's art.
Samuel Chase Coale is Professor of American Literature at Wheaton College. He is the author of several books on American writers, including In Hawthorne's Shadow: American Romance from Melville to Mailer.