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April 14, 2014

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SD

Allegory and Amnesia

We read Hawthorne's short stories as part of Mrs. Julia Ashley's English class in my junior year at Erasmus. I remember being fascinated by their black-and-white view of the world, their darkness, their allegorical underpinnings, and their symbolism.

In college I read The Scarlet Letter and essentially felt the same way about Hawthorne as I had in high school. He was an author not to my liking, exactly, but his power was undeniable.

Much later I discovered his superb notebooks. Here was evidence of a writer who observed then noted. He then presumably developed, restructured, edited -- all based on what he had jotted down in his notebooks, sometimes just the merest kernel of an idea. (Another superb notebooker was F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose ideas for story titles and character names alone are a delight to discover.)

One of Hawthorne's notebook entries stands out particularly. It involved the unimpeded view he had of what we would today call a tenement house across from the rooms he occupied. His note would enable him to imagine what would be going on among the people who lived behind the windows of this tenement -- if he later wanted to develop this. I don't know if he ever used or developed this idea in one of his stories or novels, but I do know which other writer seems to have done so consciously or unconsciously: 20th century American suspense writer Cornell Woolrich, in his 1942 story It Had to Be Murder. This story was of course the basis for Alfred Hitchcock's celebrated 1954 film Rear Window.

And as a further note concerning one of your recurring posting subjects, Amnesia on Film, there have been no fewer than eight films -- all of them categorized as film noir -- concerning amnesia that have been based on Woolrich's novels or short stories. They are:

Street of Chance (1942), based on his novel The Black Curtain.
Phantom Lady (1944), based on his novel.
The Black Angel (1946), based on his novel.
The Chase (1946), based on his novel The Black Path of Fear.
Fear in the Night (1947), based on his story Nightmare.
The Return of the Whistler (1948), based on his story All at Once, No Alice.
No Man of Her Own (1950), based on his novel I Married a Dead Man.
Nightmare (1956), a remake of Fear in the Night.

Amnesia was a favorite Woolrich plot device, cliched but compelling. I  hope you have an opportunity to address one or more, or the entire group, of these films in one of your future Amnesia on Film posts.

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