Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Scarlet Letter

My son and I have recently finished reading The Scarlet Letter and we had our discussion on it today. We've gotten quite behind in our literature studies, since I try to correlate the publication of the literature with the time of the events we are studying in history.  Authors write according to their worldview, which is influenced by the events around them. That's current events to them, but history to us. There is also a philosophical leaning in each era of history, that tends to define history and literary works. Since we got behind, we did quite a bit reflecting back in time in more ways than one.

As I opened my copy of The Scarlet Letter, I dared to read the editorial preface and discovered many fascinating things. It also substantiated, not our previous curriculum notes, but a visit we paid to the author himself, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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My daughter and I had read The Scarlet Letter four years ago. With our previous curriculum, we were advised *not* to read literature notes from our books, because they said that theirs was better. That summer we met Nathaniel Hawthorne who corrected some of the mistakes we had learned from the curriculum. As he did so, the door opened to far more meaning than before.

Based on what this misinformed curriculum taught us, I asked a bad question. I had asked Mr. Hawthorne about the scarlet letter he had found in the attic of the custom house, which he wrote about in "The Custom-House" sketch, found in the first part of The Scarlet Letter. He proudly said if I truly believed that he had found that scarlet letter in the attic of the custom house, then he had succeeded in his work as a fiction author. 

I thought I'd share my literature research for this latest reading of The Scarlet Letter. For one, the actor who portrayed Hawthorne has a masters degree in 19th century American literature.  He can often be found "haunting" the homes of many of these authors. ("Haunting" is his description which I love. It's perfect.)   Here is his blog.

Another great reference is Oxford World's Classics, The Scarlet Letter, edited by Brian Harding. The introduction to the book is written by Cindy Weinstein who substantiated many things that "Nathaniel Hawthorne" told us.

Although the Custom-House sketch *is* largely autobiographical in nature, we must not interpret the voice to be that of Hawthorne. Instead the voice is that of an unnamed person who parallels his life to Hester Prynne.  Therefore the men he worked with at the custom house are not to be interpreted as mere co-workers, but as parallel accounts to the Puritan men in the second part of the book that tells the saga of Hester Prynne, Dimmesdale and Chillingsworth.  Hawthorne had something to say and the Custom-House sketch is not an explanation of his inspiration for the book. Instead, the sketch is to parallel the story of a portion of 19th century Salem with 17th century Salem.  This time I read the  book in that light and got an entirely different meaning out of it!

Read in the context of parallel accounts, we indeed focused on the character of the men of the custom house to the traditional view of the judgmental Puritans. The curriculum wanted us to instead view Puritans as lighthearted and carefree souls, and I'm not about to dispute that point one way or the other. There are indeed documents that prove their jocularity.  However the fact is we were reading Hawthorne's book and this was his interpretation of the Puritans, on the eve of the infamous Salem w*tch-trials which were most unfortunate.  My son and I did not spend our time judging Puritans. Instead we read the story of these two sets of people  in Salem in Hawthorne's story to study them, and not others in a judgmental way. Read in this light, we obtained an entirely different meaning...because that was Hawthorne's goal!

Our aim was not to learn Hawthorne's goals so we could agree or dispute them, but to unravel his intricate weaving of a tale set in two eras of the same place. To be quite honest I'm still not sure I have my mind completely wrapped around the complexities and depths of the parallel accounts.  This is one element of a classic.  Classics not only tell tales that are common to humankind across the history of time, but they are also craftfully written with depth so that each time we read it, we should be able to pull out new meanings from the story.  Read in this light, I am now interested in returning to this book in a few years to see what new mysteries I can unravel from it! 

The Scarlet Letter was far more interesting to read this time.  I actually enjoyed it!  There were many truths, many lessons to be learned, and a few obvious points of fictional tale, as in the old wives' tales of the Puritans.  My mom's family is from the mountains of Pennsylvania and in one of the family history books which tells a few tales of our ancestors, there are also bew*tching tales similar to the accusations in The Scarlet Letter. Because this is the history of the area, it's bound to be found in the literature of these places of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and even New York.  After all Washington Irving had his tales of Henry Hudson's crew playing nine pens in the Catskills and headless horsemen. Then there is Edgar Allen Poe with his many haunting tales. Hawthorne, Irving and Poe were products of the 19th century, a time of the Romantic Era which focused on the other world, darkness, deep passions, and nature.  All of these elements are crafted by Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter.

By the way, this is as deep as I go with tales such as these.  I enjoy how they crafted tales of good v evil, so that good wins.  There is much imagery in The Scarlet Letter about light v darkness. Also along those lines, Poe is not as gloomy as a person and tale-writer as the public is led to believe. Such tales are a result of bad publicity by his enemy when he died.  (Check the previous link.)

Be sure to dig around literature notes of literary scholars, instead of taking a curriculum's word for it, or even mine.  My goal is simply to share some interesting things I've discovered and point the way to some interesting research.  To that end, let me share with you some fun links to the custom house of The Scarlet Letter, where Nathaniel Hawthorne actually worked and set his Custom-House sketch. I showed my son these pictures while introducing the book. The Custom-House sketch is a most difficult part of the book to read. My son spent more time on those 30 pages than he did on the other 170.  I read it three times and still don't have it all figured out!  The story part of Hester Prynne is much easier to read.  There is a description of the custom house in the beginning of the sketch, so it would help with both comprehension and picking out familiar details! Today during discussion, we drew upon that description again as we analyzed the point of the parallel accounts.  Because of the pictures coupled with the narrative, the imagery was burned into our minds. Once I found these sites, it made me want to plan a vacation up there! Wouldn't it be fun to find Hawthorne "haunting" the custom house?

Here is a scholarly article from the Virginia Quarterly Review: A National Journal of Literature and Discussion which links Mosses from an Old Manse (1846) to The Scarlet Letter (1850). Hawthorne actually did live in the Old Manse in Concord (previously Emerson's home) then moved to Salem and worked at the custom house.  The manse was real. The custom house was real. The scarlet letter was fiction.  Apparently there is an intro sketch to the Old Manse novel where Hawthorne tells of his moving from the Manse in Concord and his move to Salem. He laments having never found anything interesting in the attic. I haven't read the Old Manse novel but now I want to!  The Scarlet Letter opens describing his move from the Manse to Salem...and tells of discovering something fascinating in the attic...or as the essayist reminds us that Hawthorne puts it..he found something interesting in.the second story!   

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Military Tatoo-Colonial Williamsburg Drummers Call 2013

The final Drummers Call event that we attended was Saturday night's Tatoo.  Traditionally tatoo was played before evening retreat was called for the troops. The fife and drum corps would march past the taverns while beating out the signal to "turn off the taps." The origin of the word tatoo is die den tap toe, from the Dutch. Eventually this signal came to be called Taptoe...which then assimilated (changed in pronunciation for ease of speech) to Tatoo. 


This Tatoo began in front of the Palace Green as night time fell.  Each unit, escorted by torch bearers, marched down the Palace Green and then Duke of Gloucester Street, to Shields Tavern.  Of course all of us enthusiastically followed behind them!

The Colonial Williamsburg Senior Fife and Drum Corps took the final spot in the march to the taverns. When they arrived they closed out the evening with a tune, then the annual jam session broke loose! One of the fifers invited my son to join them for the jam session.


I watched one of the drummers take the drums off himself and put them on his son so he could play! I think that is so neat. It is great fun to stand around and listen to all the groups. It's a true test of their skill set that they have not only their notes down, but the timing, to be able to jam out multiple tunes in succession in a wild and furious manner! 

All day rain had threatened. It began to sprinkle at the end of the Grand Review that afternoon.  Rain fell steadily through the rest of the day and evening. We weren't sure if Tatoo would be canceled or not, but we found all the fifers and drummers in front of the Palace as the sun set during drizzly rain.  Amazingly, as the first corps unit marched out with their torch bearers, in hearty fifing and drumming, the rain stopped!  What a fun evening!

Stay tuned for many more pictures of fun times at Colonial Williamsburg.  Between all the fifing and drumming, we found time to do other fun events!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

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The first Memorial Day was observed at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868, "...for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country..."-John A. Logan

During the Civil War, "Taps" was written as a call for "lights out," and soon came into use for funerals.  Read/listen to the history at the previous link.

This afternoon at 3pm, we listened to Jari Villanueva play the haunting sound of" "Taps." Then we prayed, thanking God for all those who have served, and for those who have given their lives so that we may be free.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Oliver Twist and Tokens of Feeling at Colonial Williamsburg

This year we have been studying the 19th century, so that means Charles Dickens works are on the reading list!  Known for his social novels, he wrote not only from his personal life, but also of the common people, and for the common people.  Poverty, debt, orphanages, and debtors' prisons are common themes in his books. 

Currently we are reading Great Expectations, as a serial.  Three chapters a week is all that subscribers could read when the story was first serialized in the 19th century. We have finally reached the point where Pip has met his "Great Expectations."  My prediction is that his benefactor is the mysterious guy in chains at the cemetery whom Pip fed with stolen food from his sister's pantry.  Also I predict that Pip will return to his previous life and will marry Biddy. (Don't spoil it for me! =) I'll let you know when we finish the book!)

Tonight we watched Oliver Twist, based on another of Dickens' novels written in 1837.  I had taped this in 1997 from a Disney show, yet we had never watched it.  No one liked this version because it did not follow the book.  Unfortunately the movie actually had Oliver Twist steal for Fagin.  Oliver's mother died shortly after he was born at an orphanage. Deplorable treatment caused him to flee to London, where he met with the crook, Fagin.  Oliver's hope is in the locket that holds his mother's picture.  This token, if Oliver can retrieve it from Fagin, can restore him to his rightful, and wealthy, family.

Dickens wrote about poverty and debt because they were prevalent, not only in Great Britain, but also in his own life.  His book, David Copperfield, has been argued to be basically a biography of Dickens' own hardships growing up, with a father in debter's prison. Poverty was not unique to 19th century Britain. The 18th century suffered as well, as exemplified by the newest museum exhibit at Colonial Williamsburg, "Threads of Feeling."

Last November when I attended a Burnley and Trowbridge gown draping workshop, Angela Burnley presented a slide show of her visit to London's "Threads of Feeling" exhibit.  In the mid-18th century, the Foundling Hospital opened to children of impoverished parents.  To identify child to parent, a token  was left with the hospital. Most often this token was a piece of fabric.  Academically and historically, these fabric swatches are clues to the types of fabrics that were available in the 18th century.  Poignantly, these swatches represent heartache, hopes and dreams of parents being one day reunited with their child(ren).

The London "Threads of Feeling" exhibit has come to Colonial Williamsburg, which opened yesterday, on May 25.  The previous link contains a podcast about the exhibit, along with upcoming events related to it.  Here is the facebook page for the exhibit, with many pictures and bits of information about the it. Here is a link to the symposium that Colonial Williamsburg will hold in October, related to the exhibit.

I will not be able to visit any of the events, however we will be able to see the museum exhibit, which will be open for a year, closing on May 26, 2014.  For those who are homeschoolers and looking for activities, touring this exhibit would be a great field trip while studying one of Dicken's social novels on poverty. Then the history of how England legislated social reforms would be a great extension.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Grand Review-Drummers Call 2013

After the beautiful Fife and Drum Corps rendition of the National Anthem, the Grand Review of the different units began on Market Square. Again, I don't know the names of all the units.

Colonial Williamsburg Junior Fife and Drum Corps...




Colonial Williamsburg Alumni Fife and Drum Corps...






Middlesex County Volunteers of Massachusetts...


Colonial Williamsburg Senior Fife and Drum Corps...




Friday, May 24, 2013

Grand March-Drummer's Call 2013

Last Saturday Drummers Call began with the "Grand March" of all of the invited units, beginning at the Capitol.  Every year Patrick Henry announces each of the Fife and Drum Corps for the Armed Forces Weekend with a rousing patriotic speech!.


The Colonial Williamsburg Junior Fife and Drum Corps begins the march.   









I'm sorry I do not have the names of all of the units.  I'll share the ones I know and will add the others from my son's commemorative tshirt, provided that they marched in the same order as the listing like I think they did last year. I'm not sure where that tshirt is right now!






Colonial Williamsburg Alumni Fife and Drum Corps...



Quite possibly this Fife and Drum Corps won the vote for stealing the show.  These cuties are the youngest of the participants, as young as five years old!  The CW drum major (in red) helped each of the groups line up and know precisely when it would be their turn to start playing music and marching down Duke of Gloucester Street.






The Colonial Williamsburg Senior Fife and Drum Corps...


The crowd followed them down Duke of Gloucester Street to Market Square for the "Grand Review." Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Successful Campaign-Drummers Call 2013

Last weekend we attended the annual Drummers Call weekend at Colonial Williamsburg, which is celebrated every Armed Forces Weekend. I can't imagine a better way to spend a day honoring the Armed Forces, than to look back on their history.  In the 18th century military units depended greatly on fifes and drums to communicate signals to the troops, and even to the enemy.

The grand weekend begins with a Friday evening program called, "Successful Campaign." It begins in Merchant Square with the fifing and drumming of the Colonial Williamsburg Alumni Fife and Drum Corps! Whereas some graduated from the corps a few years ago, others graduated decades ago, yet they continue to keep their precision skills in step!





After their program, we went inside Kimball Theater to watch the performances of the Colonial Williamsburg Senior Fife and Drum Corps...


as well as their invited guests from Massachusetts!


It was a grand evening as always!  You can read more about the history behind the music here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The First Oval Office at Colonial Williamsburg

The American Revolution changed the course of the tailoring trade when the need for tents became paramount for soldiers and generals, especially His Excellency, General George Washington.  The Museum of the American Revolution is teaming with Colonial Williamsburg in reproducing General Washington's marquee, represented here as a scale model. 


The project officially opened this past Saturday morning, May 19, in the Secretary's Office at Colonial Williamsburg.  There is a room next to this where the scale model can be seen, along with banners detailing the history of tent making during the American Revolution, along with the story of General Washington's marquee as it traveled from home to home to other various locations. It's a great story!


The first stitches began on a lovely linen woven by the Colonial Williamsburg weaver.  They let me touch it!  These will comprise the inner chamber.  Inside that inner chamber would have been Washington's canopy bed, on display in the corner.


Sunday morning we returned to see the progress.  Their pieces of fabric were much longer!  The same stitches, though, were meticulously  and perfectly repeated over and over and over for the enormously long seams for the long ceilings and walls.   



A few tools of the trade of tent making...


To learn more about the project, be sure to visit the link above, which is the blog about the project, written by the Museum of the American Revolution. For more details and lots of photos of the documentation of the original tent, the process of making reproduction materials, and photos of the work in progress, check the facebook page of The First Oval Office.  To watch the construction of the tent from your media device, check the webcam. The project is set to be completed in August, so also be certain to plan a trip to Colonial Willliamsburg this summer!