The Province of Piety

Moral History in Hawthorne's Early Tales

The Province of Piety

Book Pages: 688 Illustrations: Published: April 1995

American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

In this celebrated analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Michael J. Colacurcio presents a view of the author as America’s first significant intellectual historian. Colacurcio shows that Hawthorne’s fiction responds to a wide range of sermons, pamphlets, and religious tracts and debates—a variety of moral discourses at large in the world of provincial New England.
Informed by comprehensive historical research, the author shows that Hawthorne was steeped in New England historiography, particularly the sermon literature of the seventeenth century. But, as Colacurcio shows, Hawthorne did not merely borrow from the historical texts he deliberately studied; rather, he is best understood as having written history. In The Province of Piety, originally published in 1984 (Harvard University Press), Hawthorne is seen as a moral historian working with fictional narratives—a writer brilliantly involved in examining the moral and political effects of Puritanism in America and recreating the emotional and cultural contexts in which earlier Americans had lived.


“Criticism in the grand style—uncompromising, full of passion, even heroic.” — Andrew Delbanco, Yale Review

"The Province of Piety is one of the most important studies in American literature of the present generation." — Emory Elliott, University of California, Riverside

"The most comprehensive and far reaching book on Hawthorne. Colacurcio’s treatment of the tales and Hawthorne’s intellectual biography, so vast and compelling, so rich in detail about the whole sweep of colonial and early republican thought, is an account of most everything that matters in early American literary history. It is one of the monumental books of the postwar era of literary critical thought in American studies." — Eric Sundquist, University of California, Los Angeles

"This is a major work—a richly textured discussion of Hawthorne’s crucial early development as writer, as moral thinker, and as historian. It is an extraordinary achievement in creative contextual scholarship." — Sacvan Bercovitch


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Michael J. Colacurcio is Professor of English at University of California, Los Angeles.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1572-8
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