‘The Man Of Adamant’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne

hawthorne-nathaniel-1837a

The Man Of Adamant by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1837

The magic trick:

Equally impressive as a religious critique or a haunted cave ghost story

Leave it to Old Nate to draw both the delicious horrors and the social commentary out of his hometown of Salem, Mass.

You can have either, or in this story. If you want to forget about the haunted cave, you can read this as a very sharp critique of close-minded piety. But if you’re not in the mood for religious considerations, you can read this simply as a spine-tingling yarn of lost love and the undead. And that’s quite a trick on Hawthorne’s part.

The selection:

Be that as it might, Richard Digby was well contented with his sepulchral cave. So dearly did he love this congenial spot, that, instead of going a few paces to the bubbling spring for water, he allayed his thirst with now and then a drop of moisture from the roof, which, had it fallen anywhere but on his tongue, would have been congealed into a pebble. For a man predisposed to stoniness of the heart, this surely was unwholesome liquor. But there he dwelt, for three days more, eating herbs and roots, drinking his own destruction, sleeping, as it were, in a tomb, and awaking to the solitude of death, yet esteeming this horrible mode of life as hardly inferior to celestial bliss. Perhaps superior; for, above the sky, there would be angels to disturb him. At the close of the third day, he sat in the portal of his mansion, reading the Bible aloud, because no other ear could profit by it, and reading it amiss, because the rays of the setting sun did not penetrate the dismal depth of shadow roundabout him, nor fall upon the sacred page. Suddenly, however, a faint gleam of light was thrown over the volume, and raising his eves, Richard Digby saw that a young woman stood before the mouth of the cave, and that the sunbeams bathed her white garment, which thus seemed to possess a radiance of its own.

“Good evening, Richard,” said the girl, “I have come from afar to find thee.”

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