Hawthorne's use of the legend of the Wandering Jew

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1968

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Abstract

Die purpose of this thesis is to study the Legend of the Wandering Jew as it appears in Nathaniel Hawthorne's works, especially Septimius Felton. Hawthorne, like many other romantic writers, exhibited, a tendency to use legends as a framework for his tales and novels. The Legend of the Wandering Jew, which was a popular subject with many of the eighteenth and nineteenth century writers, had particular appeal for Hawthorne. The Legend of the Wandering Jew is an extrascriptural legend that arose in the Near East a century or two after the Crucifixion. The beginning and development of the legend will be discussed in detail In the following chapters. This thesis will attempt to demonstrate that Hawthorne was familiar with the Legend of the Wandering Jew and its numerous eighteenth and nineteenth century literary versions. Several of Hawthorne's stories either specifically mention the Wandering Jew or describe a character similar to him, but the most complete treatment in the tales of the Wandering Jew is in "The Virtuoso's Collection" in which the Jew is described as an outcast who values only the materialistic aspects of life. The novel, Septimius Felton, which Hawthorne left unfinished at the time of his death, contains many of the elements of the Wandering Jew theme which indicate that Hawthorne intended to establish the Legend of the Wandering Jew as a prominent motif in the novel. In addition to perpetuating a traditional legend in Septimius Felton, Hawthorne envisaged the Legend of the Wandering Jew as a psychological study of man's sin and its consequence--alienation.

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