Hawthorne, “Roger Malvin’s Burial” (1832)

Rock face at Fort Tryon Park, Manhattan, below the Cloisters. (© The Notebooks)

Rock face at Fort Tryon Park, Manhattan, below the Cloisters. (© The Notebooks)

That Hawthorne style: baroque, limpid, erotic, here in the service of a tragic, vaguely oedipal story. Roger Malvin and Reuben are returning from Lovell’s fight, or the 1725 Battle of Pequawket. They’re both wounded, Malvin fatally so. They’ve walked for three days. Malvin can’t go on. He tells Reuben to leave him die and take care of his daughter. Reuben is to marry Malvin’s daughter. He tells him to go on home then return and bury hi, and tell his future wife of the way he died, and what he, Malvin, told Reuben to do. Reuben obeys that much, but once home he turns cowardly. He lies to Docras, tells her her after died overnight after the third day, not that he left him to die. He never returns to bury him. He sinks into depression, though they do marry (“but the bridegroom’s face was pale”). “He regretted, deeply and bitterly, the moral cowardice that had restrained his words.” He never repairs the damage. The farm Docras had brought to the marriage is in disrepair. He has become slothful. He decides to take the family and move. On the trip away, the family sets up camp. The strong, handsome 15-year-old boy they have goes hunting. So does Reuben. Reuben thinks he sees a prey. He shoots. He kills his son. He does so unaware until later that he is at the very spot where he had left Malvin. I did not like the Flannery O’Connor-like ending: “Then Reuben’s heart was stricken, and the tears gushed out like water from a rock. The vow that the wounded youth had made, the blighted man had come to redeem. His sin was expiated, the curse was gone from him; and, in the hour, when he had shed blood dearer to him than his own, a prayer, the first for years, went up to Heaven from the lips of Reuben Bourne.” Ruined an otherwise fine but terribly cruel story, underscoring its cruelty far more than its redemption.

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