Nathaniel Hawthorne honors Dante in Young Goodman Brown

Nathaniel Hawthorne honors Dante in \'Young Goodman Brown\'

By William John Meegan

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) wrote Young Goodman Brown in 1835 some 514 years after Dante Alighieri passing in 1321. It is a short story of only 10 pages of prose; yet, it captures the essence of the first three verses of La Divina Commedia. In fact I can say that his little story throw great light on the interpretation of these verses. Over the past seven centuries many great scholars have honed their talents to the text of La Divina Commedia but none seem so original as that of Nathaniel Hawthorne\'s. This does not negate those previous or subsequent commentator\'s insights for Dante work has many layers of interpretation. See Mark Musa translation below:

"Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path.

Hawthorne\'s work came to me serendipitously. I actually had no idea that he was in anyway associated with Dante\'s work. It is said that \'Hawthorne\'s neighbor and friend Herman Melville once said,\' "Young Goodman Brown is a tale as deep as Dante". It is also known that Hawthorne was a friend of Henry Wadworth Longfellow one of the founders and the first president of the Dante Society of America. Longerfeller would become president of the newly formed society some seventeen years after his friend\'s death. I wonder if there was an earlier collaboration. I mentioned this, in passing, merely to point out that there must have been a deeper following of Dante\'s works in America, then the first roster of the society\'s membership would indicate, during the 19th century. I did find it interesting that Rev. Henry Francis Cary\'s translation in 1814 uses the word "gloomy" in the second verse of La Divina Commedia: "I woke to find myself in a gloomy wood." Hawthorne\'s last sentence in this short story is, "for his dying hour was gloom." Many of La Divina Commedia\'s translations up to the middle of the 20th century uses the words "gloomy wood" rather than "dark wood" so popular in the latter half of this century.
The tale of Young Goodman Brown does not mention Dante\'s name, or mention La Divina Commedia, though it becomes obvious this small work is a tribute and recognition of Dante\'s genius.
The story starts out idealistically on a Saturday morning when Young Goodman Brown leaving his house looks back and gives his wife, Faith, a kiss. He is on his way to a prearranged meeting and would not sleep in his bed that night. His wife employs him to tarry till morning but he insists that he must \'tarry away from her\'. He teases her a bit, "What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married." He sees the concern on her face as melancholy. It is obvious she senses something amiss.
Hawthorne has steeped his narrative in allegory and symbols. I chose Saturday as the departure date because the next day is Sunday when at the end of the tale he staggers back into town and sees the preacher preparing for services. As the story unfolds it becomes obvious that it is fate that has set up this meeting for him.
Considering the historical period of Hawthorne\'s story, which was the early 19th century, when young men were apprenticed out to work until they met their obligation there was no time for a night out on the town. A young man in such an apprentice position could not afford it. He would have had to watch his reputation and his station in life. He was expected to go to bed at dusk and arise early in the morning before sunrise. Men normally did not marry until they could afford to. Young girls were chaperoned and their parents and guardians were careful to look into the reputations of the men they choose to wed. Therefore, 25 years of age was not considered early or late in life for a man to get married.
Saturday as the day for the setting of this narrative is the end of the workweek for most Christians of that era. It is also the day one would take a bath not as it is