Brander Matthews (18521929). The Short-Story. 1907.
Notes to The Ambitious Guest
By Nathaniel Hawthorne (18041864)
HAWTHORNE was a less conscious artist than Poe, and less interested in technic. Although the best of his short-stories achieve essential unity, he seems not to have striven for it; and it is the result not so much of intention as of his instinctive artistic feeling. He was a moralist who did not parade his moral, but who used it as the sustaining skeleton of his narrative. There is an ethical problem at the core of most of his narratives, novels, or brief tales. The Ambitious Guest is not the greatest of his short-stories, but it is one of the most characteristic in its quaint simplicity and in its wide application. It was included in the second series of Twice Told Tales published in 1845; but it had been written several years earlier.
The perfect harmony of the narrative, the commonplace persons presented, the unexpectedness of the appalling catastrophe,these are the obvious characteristics of this story. As we read the unpretending recital we feel that this is what might have happenedindeed, that this is what must have happened. The art of the narrator is so perfect here, his adjustment of his characters to his theme is so complete, that we do not always perceive the adroitness of the craftsman, and we may even overlook momentarily the application of the moral which underlies the fiction. In no other short-story of Hawthornes is his transparent simplicity more evident. And here attention may be called to the fact that as Hawthorne wanted us to be interested in the characters rather than in the scene he begins at once with his personages, reserving till later his description of the place where they all gathered.