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Nathaniel Hawthorne, A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys. Boston: Ticknor, Reed and Fields, 1852, (number of pages unknown)
gutenberg.org (accessed: August 2, 2018)
We are still trying to obtain permission for posting the original cover.
Author of the Entry:
Miriam Riverlea, University of New England, firstname.lastname@example.org
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Elizabeth Hale, University of New England, email@example.com
Daniel Nkemleke, Université de Yaounde 1, firstname.lastname@example.org
, 1804 - 1864
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on July 4th, 1804, into a well-established Puritan family. One of his ancestors, John Hathorne, was a judge during the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s. Although Nathaniel added the ‘w’ to his surname to distance himself from this branch of the family, his Puritan heritage had a deep influence on his writing. His best-known novels The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851) explore the themes of guilt and repentance, sin and retribution, and are widely regarded as classics of American literature.
Hawthorne’s ambition to be a writer was established during childhood, when a leg injury kept him bedridden for several months, with books as his only source of entertainment. His father, a sea captain, died of yellow fever when Nathaniel was four, and the family was taken in by his mother’s wealthy brothers, who went on to support his studies. After completing university Hawthorne began self-publishing short stories, including Twice Told Tales (1837) and in 1841, Grandfather’s Chair, a history of New England written for children. In 1842 he married Sophia Peabody, an artist with an interest in transcendentalism, and they went on to have three children.
A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys (1851) and its sequel, Tanglewood Tales (1853), were written during Hawthorne’s most productive period, following the financial and critical success of his novels. In the Preface to A Wonder Book, Hawthorne describes the experience of writing the book as “a pleasant task…and one of the most agreeable, of a literary kind, which he ever undertook.” In later life his writing became disordered, and after an extended illness he died in his sleep on May 19, 1864.
Bio prepared by Miriam Riverlea, University of New England, email@example.com
Chris King’s Monsters of the Greek Myths (1989) – a film (?) based on Hawthorne’s text as an educational resource for school students. Created by Spoke Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Referenced in Worldcat)
“The gorgon's head: a one-act opera” by Samuel Magrill, Kay Creed; Carveth Oosterhaus, University of Central Oklahoma, 1998.
Numerous Audiobook versions, most recently from 2010 by Bobbie Frohman and David Thorn, published by Alcazar AudioWorks, California.
A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys has been translated into numerous languages, including French, Polish, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Afrikaans, German, Russian, Dutch, Italian, Croatian, Albanian, Basque, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swahili, Swedish, Tamil, and Urdu.
The text includes retellings of six classical myths: The Gorgon’s Head (Perseus and Medusa), The Golden Touch (King Midas), The Paradise of Children (Pandora), The Three Golden Apples (Heracles obtaining the golden apples from the Garden of Hesperides), The Miraculous Pitcher (Baucis and Philemon), and The Chimaera (Bellerophon). The stories are united by a contemporary frame narrative set at Tanglewood, an Estate in Lenox, Massachusetts.
The text’s internal narrator is Eustace Bright, a precocious Yankee college student, who is occupied with entertaining a large group of children, “not less than nine or ten…nor more than a dozen”. The children’s names, borrowed from the botanical world (Primrose, Clover, Dandelion), imbue the narrative with a fantastical, fairy-tale quality. Over the course of a few months, and through the changing seasons of the natural landscape, Eustace keeps the children enthralled with his versions of the Greek myths. He describes the stories as “nursery tales that were made for the amusement of our great old grandmother, the Earth, when she was a child in frock and pinafore”, and marvels that “they have not long ago been put into picture-books for little girls and boys.”
Children are given added emphasis in these versions of the myths, with Pandora and Epimetheus cast as naughty children, who are doomed to grow into adults after they have opened the forbidden box. One of the most significant of Hawthorne’s inventions is the figure of Marygold, the young daughter of King Midas. Eustace describes her as a figure that “nobody but myself ever heard of”. The tragedy of Midas’ folly is intensified when he inadvertently transforms his daughter into a golden statue. The figure of Marygold is so compelling that she has continued to appear in countless subsequent retellings of the Midas myth. Even Robert Graves makes mention of her, in spite of the fact that she has no place in any ancient version of the myth.
A Wonder Book (together with its sequel, Tanglewood Tales) is the first collection of Classical myths specifically composed for children to be published in English. In his Preface, Hawthorne states that the “author has long been of opinion that many of the classical myths were capable of being rendered into very capital reading for children.” He notes the universality of the stories (“no epoch of time can claim a copyright in these immortal fables”) and defends the changes he has made to their tone, substituting their “classical aspect” with a “Gothic or romantic guise.” The stories are recontextualised within Hawthorne’s own world.
Early versions of the text included illustrations by the English artist Walter Crane, a prolific and influential children’s illustrator of the late nineteenth century.
Donovan, Ellen Butler, “‘Very capital reading for children’: reading as play in Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys,” Children’s Literature, 30 (2002): 19-41.
Laffrado, Laura, “Hawthorne 2.0,” Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, 36.1 (2010): 28.
Laffrado, Laura. Hawthorne's Literature for Children, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992.
McPherson, Hugo. Hawthorne as Myth-Maker: A Study in Imagination, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969.
Murnaghan, Sheila, “Classics for Cool Kids: Popular and Unpopular Versions of Antiquity for Children” in Classical World, 104.3 (2011): 339-353.
Schein, Seth, “Greek Mythology in the works of Thomas Bulfinch and Gustav Schwab”, in Classical Bulletin, 84.1 (2008): 74-80.
Recent edition: Nathaniel Hawthorne, A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys, New York: Barnes and Noble, 2013, 216 pp.