The Marble Faun

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The Marble Faun
The Marble Faun.jpg
First edition title page
Author Nathaniel Hawthorne
Country United States
Language English
Genre Gothic novel
Publisher Ticknor and Fields
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback)

The Marble Faun: Or, The Romance of Monte Beni, also known by the British title Transformation, was the last of the four major romances by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and was published in 1860. The Marble Faun, written on the eve of the American Civil War, is set in a fantastical Italy. The romance mixes elements of a fable, pastoral, gothic novel, and travel guide.


This romance focuses on four main characters: Miriam, Hilda, Kenyon, and Donatello.

Miriam is a beautiful painter with an unknown past. Throughout the novel, she is compared to many other women including Eve, Beatrice Cenci, Judith, and Cleopatra. Miriam is pursued by a mysterious, threatening man who is her “evil genius” through life. Hilda is an innocent copyist. She is compared to the Virgin Mary and the white dove. Her simple, unbendable moral principles can make her severe in spite of her tender heart. Miriam and Hilda are often contrasted.

Kenyon is a sculptor who represents rationalist humanism. He cherishes a romantic affection towards Hilda. Donatello, the Count of Monte Beni, is often compared to Adam and is in love with Miriam. Donatello amazingly resembles the marble Faun of Praxiteles, and the novel plays with the characters’ belief that the Count may be a descendant of the antique Faun. Hawthorne, however, withholds a definite statement even in the novel’s concluding chapters and postscript.

Publication history and response[edit]

After writing The Blithedale Romance in 1852, Hawthorne, who was then approaching fifty, obtained a political appointment as American Consul in Liverpool, England, an appointment which he held from 1853 to 1857. In 1858, Hawthorne and his wife Sophia Peabody moved to Italy and became essentially tourists for a year and a half. In early 1858, Hawthorne was inspired to write his romance when he saw the Faun of Praxiteles in the Palazzo Nuovo of the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

The book was published simultaneously in America and England in 1860; the title for the British edition was Transformation: Or the Romance of Monte Beni.[1] Both titles continue to be used today in the U.K. Encouraged to write a book in three volumes, Hawthorne included lengthy descriptions that critics found distracting or boring.[2] Ralph Waldo Emerson called the novel "mush"[3] but James Russell Lowell was pleased with it and praised it as a Christian parable.[2] Reviews were generally favorable, though many were confused by the ending. William Dean Howells later wrote: "Everybody was reading it, and more or less bewailing its indefinite close, but yielding him that full honor and praise which a writer can hope for but once in his life."[4] Friend and critic Edwin Percy Whipple noted that, even if Hawthorne had written nothing else, The Marble Faun would qualify him as a master of English composition.[2] The climax comes less than halfway through the story, and Hawthorne intentionally failed to answer many questions about the characters and the plot. Complaints about this led Hawthorne to add a Postscript to the second edition.[citation needed]



  1. ^ The Marble Faun summary at the California Polytechnic Institute
  2. ^ a b c Wineapple, Brenda. Hawthorne: A Life. New York: Random House, 2003: 326. ISBN 0-8129-7291-0.
  3. ^ Miller, Edwin Haviland. Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991: 447. ISBN 0-87745-332-2.
  4. ^ McFarland, Philip. Hawthorne in Concord. New York: Grove Press, 2004: 210. ISBN 0-8021-1776-7.
  5. ^ S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, p. 107.

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