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Two questions persist in regard to Updike's project: Why should a prominent novelist explicitly rewrite a story which has already been told so successfully? And why Hawthorne?

In answer to the former, Updike has long relied upon the successful work of previous writers. Schiff The Centaur updated and interlaced a variety of Greek myths, so many in fact that Updike compiled a mythological index as an appendix. The mythic mode, in which a writer appropriates and retells an earlier story or tale which has achieved mythic dimensions, has long been salient in Updike's fiction, though critics have failed to recognize its importance except in The Centaur.

And according to Updike, the mythic mode is attractive not only because it offers "a counterpoint of ideality to the drab real level" and provides "an excuse for a number of jokes," but because it demonstrates the "sensation that the people we meet are guises, do conceal something mythic, perhaps prototypes or longings in our minds. Hawthorne has become more than just a literary antecedent for Updike; he is a figure embedded in the history and myth of Updike's chosen community, a writer whose town Updike must pass every time he goes to and from Boston.


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Without cookies your experience may not be seamless. I was fond of him, thought he was doing well as mayor, and often met him amicably at beer parties. Mencken became famous as a writer of opinion pieces. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not. And we need one.

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He was a man born with many contradictions who set out to bring each of them into a perfect state of conundrum. Mencken was perhaps the most convivial curmudgeon ever.

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In the course of pages of text, he reports, I believe, not going to only two parties. At the low ebb of his popularity, when being forced to resign from The Sun for his antiwar and anti-Roosevelt views, he turned his full attention to his memoirs.

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They were all successful. He was, with a trade school education, the pre-eminent scholar of the American language.


Mencken liked to combine Enoch Pratt erudition with the back-alley vulgate and did so at a time of great racial and ethnic vulgarity. A well-read man, he praised Dreiser and disdained George Eliot. Or, in , to write a column proposing the United States open its borders to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. Or, in , in his last published column, to argue against segregation. Book Review H.