Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lewis P. Simpson


Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun allegorically represents the crisis of civil order in the American Republic in the 1850s foreshadowing the Civil War that erupted a year after the novel's publication. Hawthorne's last completed romance, set in Rome, suggests Americans must judge themselves against the community and continuity embodied in the European culture they had recently cast off. Challenging Emerson's doctrine that man may have an original relationship to history and the Creator, Hawthorne undermines the Founders' great idea: that an assembly of men could discover and formulate--in an act of the human mind--self-evident, inalienable rights that govern political and social relations. The first and second chapters place Hawthorne and the four protagonists of the novel in the historical context of civil strife. Chapter Three shows Miriam as an Emersonian, bound only to her intuitions, embodying millennial impulses which threaten to tear society apart. Chapter Four suggests multiple ironic links between Miriam's leading Donatello into the murder of her Model and the actions of Transcendental thinkers who supported both the Italian Risorgimento and the American Abolitionist struggle. Hawthorne poses images of communal response and penance against this perfectionist violence. The fifth chapter describes Hilda's shunning of Miriam as one expression of communal obligations to her, followed by other self-sacrificial acts. Hilda seeks and creates community, combining obedience to transcendent value with human norms in a way that associates her with St. Hilda of Whitby and the Virgin Mary. Kenyon's associations with his American and British namesakes are likewise explored. The sixth chapter examines metaphors of the gothic cathedral and Saint Peter's Basilica as models of communal perception. The Pantheon is employed as a contrasting metaphor of a pagan, isolating character. The cathedral is the climactic metaphor for community in The Marble Faun, the image of macrocosmic harmony, just as the anticipated marriage of Kenyon and Hilda establishes microcosmic harmony. The multiple works of art in the novel thus create a set of alternative visions that unite the claims of the personal and the communal; the American and the European; the temporal and the eternal.