J. M. Tyree
If, at one sitting, he caught a glimpse of what
happened to be a genuine and permanent expression, it would probably
be less perceptible, on a second occasion, and perhaps have vanished
entirely, at a third.
--Hawthorne, The Marble Faun
This all started by accident. I noticed the repetition of an unusual
name, Fanshawe (or Fanshaw), in three American novels separated widely
in time and literary sensibility. The fact might be dismissed as a coincidence,
except that certain thematic similarities emerged among the three works.
Further investigation revealed that the last book in the series had
invoked the name as a deliberate echo of the first. The name was a tiny
thread in American literature, but the more I pulled at it, the more
I found myself involved in subterranean intertextual adventures.
The basic facts are easy to summarize. Nathaniel Hawthorne published
his first novel, Fanshawe, at his own expense, in 1828. Hawthornes
queasy relationship with Fanshawe is well known. Millicent Bell,
who annotated the Library of America edition of Hawthornes novels,
is succinct: Ashamed of this first effort (which does not bear
his name on its title page), he forbids his friends to mention his authorship
and refuses to discuss the book in later years. His wife does not learn
of its existence until after his death.
In Patricia Highsmiths 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley,
Tom Ripley, having murdered Dickie Greenleaf and assumed his identity,
deposits Dickies things at an American Express office in Venice
under an assumed name. The passage concerning this is brief and the
use of the name Fanshaw seemingly inconsequential:
So, after scraping the initials off Dickies two
suitcases, he sent them, locked, from Naples to the American Express
Company, Venice, together with two canvases he had begun painting in
Palermo, in the name of Robert S. Fanshaw, to be stored until called
for. The only things, the only revealing things, he kept with him were
Dickies rings, which he put into the bottom of an ugly little
leather box belonging to Thomas Ripley, that he had somehow kept with
him for years everywhere he traveled or moved to . . .
In The Locked Room (1986), the final volume of Paul Austers
The New York Trilogy, the narrator reveals that he wrote the first
two volumes, City of Glass (1985) and Ghosts (1986), in
order to cope with the trauma of his relationship with a man named Fanshawe.
The narrator and Fanshawe knew each other before they could talk. Without
him I would hardly know who I am, the narrator explains. Years
later, after he has disappeared without any explanation, Fanshawe continues
to exercise a parasitic hold on the narrators life and identity.
When it is discovered that Fanshawe has been working on a profound collection
of poems, plays, and novels, Fanshawes wife enlists the narrators
help in promoting the writing. The narrator seduces Fanshawes
wife, entering his life as a replacement while Fanshawe increasingly
takes over the narrators inner world.
Whats in a name? It is intriguing to note that, like The Talented
Mr. Ripley, Hawthornes The Marble Faun (1860) is a
story of murder and mysteriously shifting identities with an Italian
setting. (The Marble Faun was published under the title Transformation
in England, itself a nod to Ovid.) But that does not prove that Highsmith
read Fanshawe. With Auster, the case is clearer. In a 1987 interview
with Joseph Mallin, Auster said:
In The Locked Room, by the way, the name Fanshawe
is a direct reference to Hawthorne. Fanshawe is the title of
Hawthornes first novel. He wrote it when he was very young, and
not long after it was published, he turned against it in revulsion and
tried to destroy every copy he could get his hands on . . .
Leaving aside how Auster dramatizes the story, the interview suggests
that it is not so much the text of Fanshawe itself that interests
him, but rather Hawthornes feelings about it. Auster scholar Ilane
Shiloh has argued that this fact was the pertinent factor
in his appropriation of the name. The bad first work is
not universal, but it is archetypal, if not awfully stereotypical. Faulkners
first book, for example, was The Marble Faun (1924), a volume
of imitative poetry which gestures to Hawthorne both in its title and
in a less deliberate sense. Its initial printing was financed by a friend
and literary admirer, Phil Stone, for $400.
Granted that Fanshawe is no masterpiece, critics have noted its
gestures toward recurring themes in Hawthornes mature writing--disguised
identities, extended allegories, the sinister magic of the woods, etc.
Fanshawe is a studious bookworm at Harley College who falls tragically
in love with Ellen Langton, a girl under the care of Doctor Melmoth,
the head of the college. (The successive deaths of her mother and aunt
make her a virtual foundling. Her father, abroad on business for many
years, will reappear later on.) Fanshawe and his rival for Ellens
affections, Edward Walcott, vie for the girl, until a mysterious stranger
arrives in town and spirits her away under false pretenses for the purpose
of sexual assault. Fanshawe saves her (rather unglamorously), but it
is Walcott who ultimately marries Ellen.
Hawthorne scholar Nina Baym has pointed out that Fanshawe was
Hawthornes attempt to Americanize the Gothic of English
writers, especially Scott. The results were equivocal at best. The
evening breeze grows chill, and mine is a dress for a summer day,
Ellen observes at one point. Let us walk homeward. Edward
replies: Miss Langton, is it the evening breeze, alone, that sends
you homeward? As the reader may well imagine, it is not the evening
breeze, alone, that sends Ellen homeward. But since we already know
that Miss Langton is speaking; that the evening breeze
is her excuse; and that she wishes to head homeward, there
is almost nothing in Edwards reply except the erasure of any lingering
Mediocre writing is hardly the worst of mans inhumanity to man.
Yet Hawthorne hides Fanshawe almost pathologically, in a Dimmesdale-like
fashion, as if he really had committed some unforgivable crime. A question
arises even about the amount Hawthorne paid to have the book printed.
Most critics take on faith the assertion of Hawthornes sister
Elizabeth that he paid $100. Millicent Bell, however, distrusts the
figure, offering in view of contemporary publishing costs more
likely $200. If one accepts Bells view, it suggests further
shame and deception on Hawthornes part. Even the cost of self-publishing
had to be divided in half. Unlike Prospero, Hawthorne will not acknowledge
this thing of darkness his. Fanshawe is a creation given up for
adoption, entirely disowned and repudiated, if not actively stifled
The absence of Hawthornes name on the book makes the denial possible
for a time. The book is not published under a pseudonym, or with the
by anonymous tag. No name at all appears on the title page--except
the name Fanshawe. Hawthorne biographer Edwin Haviland Miller suggests,
however, that the names Hawthorne and Fanshawe
bear some resemblance to one another. They both have the unusual final
E as well as the aw sound that existed in Hawthornes
name even before he added the W to it around 1830, restoring
an old family spelling.
Not all critics have judged Fanshawe as harshly as Hawthorne
himself did. But for him, Fanshawe is both the title of
a novel and the name of a bad memory, a psychological incident that
is not to be mentioned ever again. Fanshawe must be someone elses
child. Fanshawe, Ellen, Edward, et. al. are to be hidden in a locked
room, sealed from view. A Fanshawe is a skeleton
in the closet of authorship. One need not make too much of the fact,
but if Hawthorne is a founder of American literature, his founding work
as an author is cracked down the middle with trauma, weakness, a perception
of ineptitude, a lack of mastery.
On the other hand, it is possible to rehabilitate Fanshawe, if
not as a great work, then at least as a writerly and psychological apprenticeship.
One might theorize, for example, that hiding Fanshawe is yet
another episode in Hawthornes biography that trains him in the
effects of denial, disguise, guilt, and repression on human character.
His great characters are all hiding secrets: Dimmesdale in The Scarlet
Letter, Miriam in The Marble Faun. At the very least, Fanshawe
instructs us in humility, considering Hawthornes greatness. To
paraphrase Eliots Quartet East Coker, every
attempt to learn to use words is a different kind of failure. But it
is possible to go further, and to submit the notion that understanding
artistic failure is essential to creation. In order to go forward, to
allow oneself to write anything, one must accept the loss of perfection.
In the Coen brothers film Barton Fink (1991), Barton asks the
famous Southern writer cum Hollywood hack W. P. Mayhew (a parody of
William Faulkner), why he writes. Mayhew says, I just like making
things up. But the answer rings false, and it turns out that Mayhew
is simply an alcoholic whose brilliant books are secretly written by
his female secretary. Mayhews answer, however, doubles back upon
itself. His answer to Bartons question is a lie, but it is also
the truth, insofar as it reveals that he enjoys lying. If fiction is
not exactly a form of lying, it is at least analogous to lying in several
crucial ways. In fiction, both the writer and the reader can pretend
that they are someone else, and somewhere else. The mystery of the willing
suspension of disbelief involves the creation of some compelling world
that is not actually real. Like the assumed identity of a fraud or a
spy, the lie of fiction must be both extensive and internally coherent.
The story must stand up to interrogation, as it were, even to the point
of the torture of criticism.
Tom Ripley, the anti-hero of Highsmiths The Talented Mr. Ripley,
is another person who just likes making things up. At the outset of
the novel, Ripley is involved in a scam in which he poses as an IRS
agent and demands payment on bogus tax adjustments. The payments are
to be sent to an overflow IRS office that is, in fact, his
own apartment. But since everyone pays by check, the checks cannot be
cashed, and the scam is, therefore, largely purposeless. The suggestion
is that Ripley simply enjoys posing as someone else. The IRS scam foreshadows
his murder of Dickie Greenleaf and subsequent absorption of Dickies
identity in Italy.(1)
The relationship of fiction and lying is one of the pleasures of reading
The Talented Mr. Ripley that transcends the ordinary conventions
of the crime genre. Ripleys seamless takeover of Dickies
life mirrors the act of Highsmiths creation of the world of her
novel. It is an analogous act of impersonation that implicates the process
of composition as a crime of fraud perpetrated upon the reader. The
whole of the novel, like Ripleys new life as Dickie, is totally
unreal. In a sense, Highsmith raises the issues of metafiction without
metafiction, through a character who is a compulsive fabricator of fictions.
Rather than attempting to prove that Highsmiths use of the name
Fanshaw is a direct reference to Hawthorne, it is safer
merely to suggest the thematic parallels, which would exist even if
Highsmith had chosen another name less charged with literary significance.
In The Talented Mr. Ripley, Robert S. Fanshaw is the false name
under which Dickies things will be stored in the American Express
office in Venice. It will be the title, in other words, by which the
things will be identified, a title that will simultaneously disguise
the real identity of the responsible party. The process is roughly analogous
to the way in which Fanshawe will only be known as Fanshawe,
so that Hawthorne will not be forced to own up to the work, to admit
that it is his own. In both cases, the name Fanshawe or
Fanshaw becomes more than a name. Its a mask, the
name that will be known to the public and simultaneously preserve the
identity--or rather, the anonymity--of the artist.
One of the intriguing features of the Fanshaw passage in The Talented
Mr. Ripley is that not all of the things hidden by the name Fanshaw
actually belong to Dickie. Ripley also sends two canvases he had
begun painting in Palermo. As part of his total absorption of
Dickies identity, Ripley has even trained himself to paint like
Dickie. Dickie happens to be a very bad painter. Dickies landscapes
are all wild and hasty and monotonously similar. Although
they are never described, the Palermo canvases probably have been painted
by Ripley in the mediocre style of Dickie.
Ripleys counterfeit of Dickie is always more than a practical
attempt to cover up his murder. It also comes from a sense of profound
inner emptiness.(2) Ripley writes letters from the dead Dickie to his
girlfriend Marge. He holds imaginary conversations with
Dickies friends in his room, playing the role of Dickie. Every
moment to Tom was a pleasure . . . It was impossible ever to be lonely
or bored, he thought, so long as he was Dickie Greenleaf. That
Ripley is sending the canvases to Venice along with Dickies effects
is not a strategem, but rather part of a psychological compulsion. In
fact, at this stage, the Dickie identity has become a liability, and
Ripley is facing the horrible prospect of becoming himself again. This
was the end of Dickie Greenleaf, thinks Ripley. He hated
going back to himself as he would have hated putting on a shabby suit
of clothes. At this point, Ripley weeps, not from penitence, but
from the unfairness of having Dickie taken away from him. Ripley has
so effaced the border between himself and Dickie that he is confusing
the two characters.
The third-person narrative simply describes two canvases he had
begun painting in Palermo. The indefinite pronoun is everything
here, and brilliantly deployed. He painted them, but who
he was when he did so--Tom Ripley, Dickie Greenleaf, or
some amalgam--is open to question. Robert S. Fanshaw: yet another assumed
name, a mask hiding Ripleys internal void.
A related intrigue in the Fanshaw passage involves the ugly little
brown leather box belonging to Thomas Ripley, into which he deposits
Dickies rings, the only revealing things he permits
himself to keep on his person. The narrative describes Thomas
Ripley as if he were contemplating someone other than himself.
The leather box had somehow kept with him for years everywhere
he traveled or moved to . . . It is filled with fragmented junk
like cuff-links, collar pins, odd buttons, a couple of fountain-pen
points, and a spool of white thread with a needle stuck in it.
The box, like Ripley, is a shell, rather like the shabby suit
of clothes that he makes for his own identity, a collection of
oddments from a life fashioned out of other peoples names.
At this stage, Ripley faces the problem of a Fanshaw. Like Hawthornes
Fanshawe, the name represents the residual traces of a work that
one cannot obliterate and which, therefore, must remain forever hidden.
Fanshaw(e) represents the threat of a previous existence that might
resurface at any time, like the sunken boat that holds the corpse of
Dickie Greenleaf. And, just as Hawthorne effaced his own name from his
first novel, Ripley attempts to efface the strange Ripley-Greenleaf
hybrid that made the paintings in Palermo with an assumed name. All
that is left, as evidence of that previous life, is disguised under
It is a cheerful thought for Ripley, this multiplication
of identities, by means of which the connection between himself and
his first murder will disappear. He could check all Dickies
clothes at the American Express in Venice under a different name and
reclaim them at some future time, if he wanted to or had to, or else
never claim them at all. One wishes to distance oneself from the
act, while at the same time relishing the hidden evidence of the trophies
one cannot bear to destroy. It cannot be assumed with any safety that
Highsmith has Ripley choose the name as a direct literary allusion.(3)
If she did--and this must remain an open question--then the Fanshaw
of The Talented Mr. Ripley forms a wry comment on authorship,
pseudonyms, and double identity. One can imagine Hawthornes own
cheerful thought that he could publish Fanshawe without
using his own name, yet thereby reserve the right to reclaim
the book, as if it were lost baggage, should the work prove useful to
him at some later date. At the same time, the existence of a Fanshawe
or Fanshaw is also obviously a source of shame founded on the denial
of a crime. One could postulate Highsmiths allusion as a subtle
form of literary criticism. Hawthornes stubborn denial of his
authorship of Fanshawe is a strange little literary murder, an attempt
to snuff out part of himself.
The key divergence here, of course, is that Fanshawe will be
pinned on Hawthorne in time, whereas The Talented Mr. Ripley ends
with Ripley miraculously (and unrepentantly) victorious. Dickie Greenleafs
effects are eventually discovered, but nobody named Robert S.
Fanshaw can be found, so the police assume that Dickie himself
deposited his things in Venice. Foul deeds will rise, but in the case
of Ripley, they cant be connected with him. Dickies parents
are convinced that he (Dickie) has committed suicide. A newspaper report
speculates that he might remain alive under the alias of Robert
S. Fanshaw or another alias. Fanshaw, however, is not any old
alias, but one that opens questions about aliases and authorship as
such. The name is an alias, but one which refers to nothing real, only
a chain of other fictions, the name of a character in an old book whose
famous author didnt want the world to know he wrote it. As an
alias, then, a Fanshaw is not always merely a mask hiding ones
true face, but also might be the figure of a mask with nothing underneath
it, pure fiction.
Paul Auster published his first novel, a baseball mystery called Squeeze
Play, under a pseudonym, perhaps because it was written for money,
and perhaps because the subject matter did not jibe with his public
identity as a poet and translator of modernist French poetry. Austers
remarkable literary polyphony is legendary: hes also a literary
novelist, a memoirist, and a scriptwriter. Much of his fiction concerns
itself with themes of multiple identities: characters who arent
sure who they are; characters who utterly lose themselves and disappear;
characters mistaken for someone else; characters pretending to be someone
or something theyre not. His most recent novel, The Book of
Illusions, has the following quotation from Chateaubriand as its
epigraph: Man has not one and the same life. He has many lives,
placed end to end, and that is the cause of his misery.(4)
Austers New York Trilogy is a tour de force of metafiction
in which the narrator of the third volume, The Locked Room, reveals
that action of the first two books, City of Glass and Ghosts,
never really happened, not even within the fictional world
of the Trilogy, but are, in fact, his own fictional creations.
Auster even includes himself in the endlessly recessive play of aliases.
In City of Glass, the action begins with a wrong number; the
caller is trying to reach a Paul Auster who later appears
as a minor character.
Arthur M. Saltzman, whose Designs of Darkness in Contemporary American
Fiction is the first work to examine Austers use of Hawthorne
in any detail, describes the overall effect as both a Doppelganger
game and an identity relay system. Saltzman notes
that the name of Fanshawes wife in The Locked Room, Sophie,
echoes that of Hawthornes wife. He incorrectly asserts, however,
that Hawthorne conspired with his wife to keep his authorship of Fanshawe
a secret. In fact, just as in The Locked Room, the wife must
not find out the truth.
Like Ripley, the narrator of The Locked Room virtually takes
over another mans identity. When his childhood friend, a reclusive
writer named Fanshawe, disappears, the narrator takes on the duty of
editing and promoting his work. A rumor emerges that he is, in fact,
the author of the works being published under Fanshawes name.
He eventually marries Fanshawes wife, and, more disturbingly,
seduces Fanshawes mother.
We already know that Auster intended a deliberate reference to Hawthorne.
(Auster, however, never mentions Highsmith as a source for his Fanshawe.)
Austers Fanshawe has the opposite problem of Hawthorne with his
Fanshawe --rather than publishing his work prematurely, he lacks
the will to publish anything at all, letting his manuscripts pile up.
Fanshawe doesnt want to be seen, he wants to (and eventually does)
disappear. On the other hand, the narrator, a critic, feels that he
writes too much. Austers twist is that the parasite becomes the
host. By taking over Fanshawes life, he permits Fanshawe to take
over his. This, in turn, sets off the process Saltzman describes as
the threat of psychological disintegration from servitude to Fanshawe.
The effect is somewhat similar to that of Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf.
As with Ripleys Palermo paintings, Austers narrator contemplates
the idea of writing under Fanshawes name. But the strategic difference
lies in Ripleys ability to control the process of assimilation
and work it to his own advantage. In contrast, the narrator of The
Locked Room feels his own life devoured by Fanshawes. I
was even possessed, he tells us. Ripley is able to absorb
Dickie, whereas Austers narrator becomes absorbed by Fanshawe,
Fanshawes work, and Fanshawes life. He decides, disastrously,
to write Fanshawes biography.(5) The critic does not feed off
the writer; the writer is devouring him, almost leaching his substance
away, gradually emptying his inner life.
Another fatal difference is that Fanshawe, unlike Dickie, remains alive.
The narrator decides to keep this fact secret, a fact which turns his
biography into a fiction, a fraud, a lie. Though Auster does not do
so, one could imagine the hypothetical publication of this biography,
perhaps under the title Fanshawe, as a recapitulation of Hawthornes
original drama. In both cases, the publication must be haunted by the
necessity of repression. In Hawthornes fiction, the deception
will be the absence of the real author; in Fanshawes biography,
the author fakes the death of its subject.
Auster, therefore, reverses the poles of both Hawthornes Fanshawe
and Highsmiths Fanshaw. The real Hawthorne hides behind (or within)
the fictional Fanshawe and refuses to admit its existence, just
as Ripley hides behind (or within) Dickie Greenleaf and refuses to own
up to his murder. Austers Fanshawe also hides behind the narrator,
manipulating him at a distance and creating through him a public literary
persona. For Hawthorne and Highsmith, a Fanshaw(e) is a mask, one that
can be used fairly successfully, whereas Austers narrator is used
by a Fanshawe as a mask. The narrator is tempted by the notion
of masking himself in Fanshawes life, but, in fact, the task is
both impossible and highly destructive. A fatal lassitude sets into
the narrators life. He is, of course, gradually losing himself.
Fanshawe had used me up, he explains in the books
The Locked Room ends with a final meeting, in Boston, between
the narrator and Fanshawe. Fanshawe gives him one last literary work
in the form of a red notebook. On a platform of South Station, the narrator
reads the work, which carries a feeling of great lucidity,
but in which each sentence erased the sentence before it, each
paragraph made the next paragraph impossible. It is impossible
to tell whether the effect is a result of his shaken mental state, or
whether it is induced by the red notebook itself. The narrator decides
to destroy the notebook, page by page, after finishing it. The act of
defiance is a reassertion of self, and it seems significant that the
narrator notices that I could see my breath in the air before
me, leaving my mouth in little bursts of fog. I, my, me, my: the
repetitions and variations imply that the narrator finally awakens,
beginning to remember who he really is.
The alternative, one imagines, is death, or insanity, the utter effacement
of his identity. The act of reading here encapsulates the narrators
entire relationship with Fanshawe, in which he must resist the parasitic
hold of Fanshawes writing. The choice is a harsh one insofar as
Fanshawe only lives through his writing, at least to the outside world.
At the same time, the act feels necessary; the narrator must destroy
the book before it destroys him.
On the face of it, this seems like an odd notion. We are not accustomed
to viewing books as dangerous. Death by reading? Austers
conceit, however, echoes another theme in Fanshawe, one from
the actual text rather than Hawthornes life. Fanshawe is
shot through with a contemporary medical theory suggesting that you
could die from an excess of studying. In a nice piece of detective work,
Haviland Miller notes that in 1828, Hawthorne borrowed a book from the
Salem library by a Chandler Robbins entitled Remarks on the Disorders
of Literary Men. The book includes the case of a Boston man who
died in 1820 by too great love of learning. You could read
yourself to death.
When we first encounter Hawthornes Fanshawe, he is already the
victim of a blight, of which his thin, pale cheek and the brightness
of his eye were alike proofs. The cause of his sickness is books.
Fanshawes solitary studies are judged to be destructive
labor, and called conversation with the dead. His
books are likened to those fabled volumes of Magic, from which
the reader could not turn away his eye, till death were the consequences
of his studies.
As a medical concept, the idea is something like literary consumption.
Fanshawes case is compared with that of Nathanael Mather, brother
of Cotton Mather. Mather, Hawthorne tells us, in his almost insane
eagerness for knowledge and in his early death, Fanshawe resembled.
When Fanshawe dies after total enervation from his studies--perhaps
combined with the physical exertion of his adventures in love--his epitaph
is borrowed from Mathers: The ashes of a hard student and a
Highsmiths Ripley, never much of a reader, is immune to the parasitism
of scholarship. True, he studies Dickie Greenleaf like a book, and reproduces
or simulates him, in a sense keeping him alive, at least for the sake
of keeping up appearances. But Ripley is more an actor than a reader;
he becomes Dickie without expense to himself because he is nothing at
his core. Ripley can actually enjoy the process. Indeed, perhaps the
most frightening aspect of Ripleys character, expanded at length
in Highsmiths other Ripley novels, remains his utter lack of repentance.
He gets away with it because his nature allows him to swallow
Dickie without becoming poisoned.
Austers narrator is similar in one sense--he is drawn to Fanshawe
because of a lack in himself. He is a critic and something of a hack,
whereas Fanshawe is the reclusive genius that he imagines he might have
been, or would like to become. But like the black Magic
books of Hawthornes fable, Fanshawes writings and life come
to possess him as much, or more, than he possesses them. Fanshawe is
the thing from which he cannot turn away his eye until the
last possible moment--just prior, one imagines, to the fatal instant
when death were the consequences of his studies. It is possible
to speak of Auster psychologizing the literal content of Hawthornes
pseudo-science. Reading itself may not literally kill you, but an unhealthy
obsession with the object of your investigation might just come close.
The act of becoming someone else--whether literally or metaphorically,
through acting or delusion, conjuring or possession--is fraught with
peril. The fear of discovery involves the terror that people might find
out who we really are, or at least what we really did, whether the crime
is murder, or some relatively minor offense like self-publishing a mediocre
book or destroying the notebook of a famous writer. On the surface,
Hawthorne, Ripley, and Austers narrator get away with their crimes.
On a psychological level, however, dark questions remain, like internal
bleeding without a visible wound. For Hawthorne, the question of Fanshawe
involves the apparently compulsive nature of his lifelong denial. In
the case of Highsmith, the question of Robert S. Fanshaw brings up the
inner lack that makes counterfeiting so appealing to Ripley. In Auster,
Fanshawe is a corrosive influence that combines both the seductions
and the dangers of taking on another mans life.
In the opening lines of his 1955 novel The Recognitions, William
Gaddis describes one characters desire for a safe sort
of masquerade, where the mask may be dropped at that critical
moment it presumes itself as reality. Auster, like Gaddis, however,
does not acknowledge that a safe sort of masquerade is, in fact, possible.
In their fiction, the mask tends to become wedded to the face. It is
no longer a question of the mask being mistaken for reality, but rather
of the process by which the counterfeit presumes itself,
becoming real, and, in fact replacing reality. Hawthorne and Ripley
might think that they are engaged in a safe masquerade
because, in the end, they still know who they are. Despite the dangers
of discovery, they seem to remain in control of the play of aliases.
Austers use of Fanshawe is different insofar as it suggests or
reveals that such control is illusory. Truth and lies cannot be disentangled;
they bleed into each other and are always mutually contaminated.
This, in turn, may serve as a warning for the potential student of Fanshaw(e)s.
The investigator binds himself to his subject in order to capture it,
just as a biographers life might be taken over by the subject
of the biography. The life of the scholar, in the form of time dedicated
to the task, is sucked away, haunted, or even possibly destroyed by
what Hawthorne calls conversation with the dead. Whereas
initially I might have sought out Fanshaw(e)s, perhaps for the purpose
of mastering their possible meanings, it seems that the task is wonderfully
impossible. The three Fanshaw(e)s, as it turns out, have bonded me to
their service, taken part of the substance of my life, and driven me
to spend my time writing this essay about them, even though they are
nothing more--or less--than fiction.
1. Ripleys sexuality is a point of critical dispute,
but if he is a closeted homosexual, or even simply asexual, he has something
else abnormal to hide.
2. This emptiness is depicted chillingly by Dennis Hopper in his portrayal
of Ripley in The American Friend (1977), Wim Wenders film
adaptation of Highsmiths Ripleys Game (1974).
3. Ripley is no scholar, although he does attempt to read Henry James
en route to Europe, and memorizes a long inscription by Tasso
on a public building in Palermo. Highsmith perhaps plays with the reference
to James; Ripley mistakes the title of a James novel, calling it The
Ambassador rather than The Ambassadors. The error fits
in better with Ripleys own notion of his ambassadorship (singular)
to Dickie on behalf of his family. Ripley removes an S from
Jamess title (and inserts it back into play as Robert S. Fanshaws
middle initial?), just as Highsmith writes Fanshaw without
Hawthornes E. Pure coincidence, probably, this jumble
of misplaced letters. But names and identities are permeable here, like
the meaning of the A on Hester Prynne, or the added W
in Hawthornes own name.
4. It is tempting to relate Austers games with
identity to the postmodern obsession with the so-called fragmentation
of the self, but such sentiments are threaded throughout the French
tradition, as the Chateaubriand quotation shows. I give my soul
this face or that, Montaigne says in On the Inconstancy
of Our Actions, depending upon which side I lay it down
on. That we are fashioned out of oddments put together
might be taken to imply that we are partly composed of remnants of other
people. What we take to be the trendiest new ideas of literary criticism
begin to sound like scraps of old texts, just as Austers Fanshawe
5. The relationship between critic and artist reemerges in The Book
of Illusions, which, like The Locked Room, is about the absorption
of a biographer in his subjects real life. Saltzman claims that
in writing Fanshawes biography, Austers narrator, by
promoting the death is eliminating the parasites host.
One could also argue, however, that Auster suggests something more like