by Rob Velella
“How do you justify portraying Nathaniel Hawthorne in front of people?”
The question came from a well-respected scholar after hearing that I “become” Hawthorne in first-person living history programs. It is a valid and difficult question.
I started portraying Nathaniel Hawthorne in 2010, but I had been studying him for years – long enough to know that he was infamously shy and either disliked or thought himself unworthy of being the center of attention. In “The Custom-House,” his introductory sketch to The Scarlet Letter, he says he is usually “disinclined” to discuss personal matters even with close friends.
For living history performers, authenticity is key. Can I justify him standing at a podium, reading his stories and telling audiences about his life and relationships?
Honestly, I can’t. Hawthorne would have hated the experience, and I do my best to express some discomfort during my presentations. I also usually break character for the question-and-answer period so I can respond more freely to questions Hawthorne himself would have avoided.
Certainly, there’s irony to what I do. Perhaps that is what justifies my performances the most: Hawthorne loved irony.
About the author: Rob Velella is an independent literary scholar and living history performer who portrays Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. His next program, “The Scarlet Letter [Abridged] – Read by the Author,” will be presented online free of charge on Friday, July 3, at 7:00 pm. Click here for more information >>Tags: gables, hawthorne, history, nathaniel hawthorne, the house of the seven gables
This post was written by Sarah Garriepy