Hugues Merle – The Scarlet Letter
” In O’Connor’s estimation…In human deformity, the believer sees the ‘raw material of good’. In human suffering the believer sees the grounds of our common humanity, recognizing that it is in suffering, above all, that human beings are stirred to the love of one another, and to the love of God, who showed his love for humanity through his willingness to suffer as one of us.” The Life You Save May Be Your Own, Paul Elie, 2003
I have been rambling on about lady writers and so on – and there’s more. The ramblings began when I read Terry Nelson’s blogpost about Mary Ann Long – and this brought me to the story of how Nathaniel Hawthorne’s daughter, converted to Catholicism and re-named Mother Alphonsa, set up Dominican homes for ‘incurables’. Flannery O’Connor was asked to write about the child, Mary Ann Long, who lived with the Hawthorne Dominican Sisters for nine years and died at the age of 12 in January 1959. Miss O’Connor refused but agreed to write the introduction to a book written by the Sisters themselves about the little Dominican. Here are some of the reviews of Miss O’Connor’s work. Here is Ann Ball’s story of Mary Ann Long.
Mother Alphonsa, incidentally, was one of the inspirations for Dorothy Day to found the Catholic Worker.
Several writers, including Flannery O’Connor herself, have drawn the mystic, mysterious line from Hawthorne, through his daughter, to the homes she founded and to Mary Ann Long, a child with a terrible facial disfigurement. In Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, one of the most chilling books I have read, the female protagonist (and moral victor) is also a victim: she is forced to wear the letter A of shame, branding her an adulteress. Paul Elie’s book, quoted above, and this blogpost trace, along with Miss O’Connor, the founding of the Hawthorne Homes in part to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s encounter in a Liverpool workhouse during his stay in the city as Consul, with a ‘wretched and rheumy child’. Despite his revulsion at the child’s neediness and physical state, Hawthorne had picked him up when the child pleaded – “I would never had forgiven myself if I had repelled its advances”.
The tale becomes stranger: one of Hawthorne’s ancestors, John Hathorne, was one of the examining magistrates in the Salem Witch trials, a bewildering, murderous stew of hysteria, terror, ‘witchery’, fingerpointing, possible ergotism and pure human failings. Hathorne showed no remorse over his actions: Hawthorne, embarrassed by his legacy, added the ‘w’ to his name…
There is nothing new under the sun, is there?
The Hawthorne Dominican Sisters continue to carry out their mission of caring for those with incurable cancer who cannot pay for their care. They seem to wear the traditional habit and extremely sensible shoes. Bravo.