The Marble Faun Short Summary

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The Marble Faun book, theme, short summary, analysis and sparknotes. Info about the The Marble Faun book.

The Marble FaunThe Marble Faun; the last completed romance of Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1860.

Most of the scene is laid in Rome. The main characters are: Kenyon, a young American sculptor; his compatriot Hilda, a painter; Miriam Schaefer, also a painter, with a hidden past; Donatello, Count of Monte Beni, a young Italian who, his friends think, resembles the marble statue of the Faun (or Satyr) by Praxiteles. The resemblance is more than physical: Donatello is gay and charming, but lacks moral responsibility.

Donatello deeply loves Miriam, who, after an encounter in the catacombs, is haunted by a mysterious man whose power over her implies some dark secret in her past. Enraged at seeing her thus tormented, Donatello one night flings the tormentor from the Tarpeian rock. Hilda, a chance witness, parts from Miriam in revulsion, but cannot bring herself to tell what she has seen. She finally, though a Protestant, unburdens herself to a confessor at St. Peter’s. Shared guilt —for she had consented to his act—brings Miriam and Donatello together in an unhappy union. The greatest effect, however, is upon Donatello, in whom bloodguiltiness awakens for the first time real conscience and moral responsibility. Kenyon ultimately marries Hilda; the fate of the other two is left vague.

The book is the least satisfying of Hawthorne’s romances. Too much is left unexplained; the narrative is impeded by Baedekerlike details from the author’s notebooks. It poses, however, a dark problem, thus phrased by Kenyon: “Sin has educated Donatello, and elevated him. Is sin, then, like sorrow, merely an element in human education, through which we struggle to a higher and purer state than we could otherwise have attained?” Hilda repudiates this idea with horror; it is by no means certain that Hawthorne does.

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