The Other Hawthorne’s Weird Tales

Julian Hawthorne hustled. An independent contractor par excellence, the son of Nathaniel Hawthorne reported on foreign wars and domestic politics, published novels, penned short stories, dreamt up theosophist blarney, raked muck, churned out ad copy, and wrote whatever else was necessary to support a wife, a mistress, and a bunch of little Hawthornes. Had he lived in 2014 he might’ve even lowered himself to blogging.

Dismissed as a prodigal son, an underachiever, a promising young writer gone bad—his own biographer, Gary Scharnhorst, calls him The Hack—Julian Hawthorne made a modest but noteworthy contribution to genre fiction. Archibald Malmaison, a suspense novel of amnesia and premature burial, earned praise from Wilkie Collins, while the Nation said, “The nervous should be warned off.”

The pulse-pounding conclusion:

She was kneeling with her face bowed forward on her arms, which rested on the seat of one of the low chairs. Her attitude was that of passionate prayer. Her thick brown hair was unfastened, and fell over her shoulders.

She made no movement. It was strange! Was she praying? Could she be asleep?

He took a step or two, and then stopped. Still no movement.

“Kate!” he said in a hushed voice; and as she did not answer, he spoke more loudly: “Kate, I have come back; and I’ve a mind to scold you for letting the fire go out, and startling me with this darkness. What are you doing on your knees? Come, my darling, we want no prayers to-night. Kate … will you give me a kiss now?

“Perhaps she may have fainted. Poor darling, she must have fainted!”

He went close up to her, and laid his hand on her shoulder: he seemed to grasp nothing but the empty stuff of the dress. With a terrified, convulsive motion, he pulled her round, so that the head was disturbed from its position on the arms, and the ghastly mystery was revealed to his starting eyeballs. The spectacle was not one to be described. He uttered a weak, wavering scream, and stood there, unable to turn away his gaze.

By the time Hawthorne embraced suspense and detective stories, he had long abandoned the pretense he might match the literary achievements of his legendary father. At times he barely considered himself a writer, comparing the trade to “making nails or horseshoes.”

Alas, like many of the ink-stained, Hawthorne had no job skills as useful as blacksmithing. Forced to produce words or starve, he brought the strange with the kinds of tales one entitles “The Secret of the She-Wolf” and “A Mystery of the Campagna.” Never averse to tackling a new market, he also wrote to scare young readers. His Rumpty-Dudget, named for a dwarf hoping to fill his tower with disobedient children, earned a reprint as late as 1987.

“Now, my dear,” said Rumpty-Dudget to Princess Hilda, “will you step through first? Ladies always go first, you know.”

“Not through holes in the hedges,” replied Hilda, drawing back. “It is always the men who go first then.”

All but the last quarter of the sun was now hidden behind the edge of the world, and there was no time to be lost, for (as Rumpty-Dudget well knew) as soon as the sun was quite gone Tom the Cat would appear. So he said, as amiably as he could, though in reality he felt very angry:

“Well, then, Prince Harold, my fine fellow, you are the next eldest; take my hand, and in we go.”

“No,” said Prince Harold, drawing back; “I think I am too big to get through that little hole. Somebody else must go first.”

Rumpty-Dudget trembled with rage and fear; and there was only the smallest bit of the sun yet visible. However, he managed to say, in a tolerably smooth voice:

“Little Prince Hector, there, is my man after all! He will come through the hole, and see the pretty things, won’t he?”

Now, Prince Hector was a sturdy little fellow, and afraid of nothing; so he put his hand in Rumpty-Dudget’s and said boldly:

“Yes, I’ll go; but if your garden isn’t any prettier than you are I shan’t want to stay long.”

“Let me lift you in, my little hero,” said Rumpty-Dudget, taking Hector round the waist with his little bony hands; “and I’ll warrant you won’t come back in a hurry.”

Gary Scharnhorst details the complicated life and profligate career of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s only son, in his UIP book Julian Hawthorne: The Life of a Prodigal Son.