Article Title

The Unpardonable Reader


Hawthorne’s prefaces to his romances, though largely ignored as a composite body of work, contain key insights into reading his fiction. Each preface is a sort of instruction manual directed toward the reader. He expects empathy from his readers and openness to his version of magical realism. A study of Hawthorne’s concept of the “Unpardonable Sin” as presented in “Ethan Brand” reveals that these reading instructions warn against a similar crime, that of a cold lack of empathy and tendency toward disbelief. On a much smaller scale, then, it becomes clear that a reader who does not follow Hawthorne’s instructions would be an unpardonable reader. Hawthorne provides examples of these unpardonable readers in three of his tales: “A Christmas Banquet,” “The Devil in the Manuscript,” and “Alice Doane’s Appeal.” Fortunately, in “Alice Doane’s Appeal,” Hawthorne offers an opportunity for redemption. Though unpardonable sinners may be beyond repentance and salvation, unpardonable readers are not.