September 13, 2020

"The Ambitious Guest."

I was rereading the excellent Roz Chast memoir "Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?" when I got to the page "Dirty Checkers":



This time through the book, I stopped, loaded Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Twice-Told Tales" into my Project Gutenberg app and read "The Ambitious Guest" right then and there. Why live at the base of a mountain that is regularly signaling its willingness to roll down and bury you? They had their reasons. What's the point of moving on? The man who would move on got buried too. And indeed, when they heard the mountain collapsing they ran out of the house, to their safe spot, and the mountain spared the house and flattened them in their safe spot. Maybe stay where you are. If you jump somewhere else, that may be the very spot where you'll get killed.
The next morning the light smoke was seen stealing from the cottage chimney up the mountain-side. Within, the fire was yet smouldering on the hearth, and the chairs in a circle round it, as if the inhabitants had but gone forth to view the devastation of the slide and would shortly return to thank Heaven for their miraculous escape. All had left separate tokens by which those who had known the family were made to shed a tear for each. Who has not heard their name? The story has been told far and wide, and will for ever be a legend of these mountains.... Woe for the high-souled youth with his dream of earthly immortality! His name and person utterly unknown, his history, his way of life, his plans, a mystery never to be solved, his death and his existence equally a doubt,—whose was the agony of that death-moment?

25 comments:

Anthony said...

I read Hawthorne just to read the words. Brilliant wordsmith.

Fernandinande said...

His name and person utterly unknown, his history, his way of life, his plans, a mystery never to be solved, his death and his existence equally a doubt,—whose was the agony of that death-moment?

Aborted.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

Ordered. Seems fun.

gspencer said...

A rich and mighty Persian once walked in his garden with one of his servants. The servant cried that he had just encountered Death, who had threatened him. He begged his master to give him his fastest horse so that he could make haste and flee to Teheran, which he could reach that same evening. The master consented and the servant galloped off on the horse. On returning to his house the master himself met Death, and questioned him, “Why did you terrify and threaten my servant?” “I did not threaten him; I only showed surprise in still finding him here when I planned to meet him tonight in Teheran,” said Death.

https://bloggingbi.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/death-in-tehran/

DaveL said...

That's actually a true story (ignoring the "guest"). The Willey family lived in Crawford Notch, NH, and in 1826, were killed by a rockslide that struck the shelter they had fled to, leaving their home untouched.

gilbar said...

Fernandinande said...
Aborted.


How Many Ambitious stranger's plans have been aborted since Roe v Wade?
<61,628,584


Fernandinande said...

Related, cuz writing words and all that: two more Thoughtcriminals punished!

Students call for George Bernard Shaw's name to be removed from RADA theatre"

Einstein's inspirational philosopher: "From the start of the new academic year the David Hume Tower will be known as 40 George Square."
(Apparently as in George Floyd...)

Locke your doors, because apparently this Thoughtcriminal is still running loose:
"What Should We Make of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Racism?"

Temujin said...

Great post. Reminded me of Hawthorne and showed me an interesting and fun memoir. THIS is what I love about Althouse. Right out of Monty Python: And now for something completely different.

MikeR said...

"Why live at the base of a mountain that is regularly signaling its willingness to roll down and bury you? They had their reasons. What's the point of moving on? The man who would move on got buried too." I think someone needs to work on their risk assessment skills.

tim in vermont said...

I have been reading older short stories lately and of the things I have noticed that that made Hemingway different than writers before him is that short stories used to mostly have punch lines, like jokes.

"Brilliant wordsmith.”

Do you like it when writers use clumsy neologisms when perfectly useful and time honored, not to mention more graceful alternatives exist? I don’t remember Hawthorn doing much of that.

I looked up its etymology, ok, on one source, and this is what it found for the oldest reference.

wordsmith (n.)1896, from word (n.) + smith (n.). There is a "Mrs. F. Wordsmith" in the Detroit City Directory for 1855-56, but perhaps this is a typo.

Narr said...

His "Earth's Holocaust" is a prescient tale.

I'm more a "Doubtful Guest" type myself.

Narr
"Ogdred Weary"

Martha said...

As Tropical Storm Sally strengthens and heads my way in New Orleans, I am asking myself why live in a city below sea level on the Gulf of Mexico that is regularly signaling its willingness to surge and flood in response to hurricanes and drown me.

Bilwick said...

The Hawthorne story and the retelling of it by Roz Chast's father reminds me of Mr. Mike's Least-Loved Bedtime Stories from SNL. "And just then there was an avalanche, and they all died. The End."

Robert Cook said...

"Why live at the base of a mountain that is regularly signaling its willingness to roll down and bury you? They had their reasons. What's the point of moving on? The man who would move on got buried too."

Human nature, thy name is “denial.”

Ann Althouse said...

The memoir isn't all fun.

It's quite harrowing, the confrontation with the indignities and long decline of extreme old age.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why live at the base of a mountain that is regularly signaling its willingness to roll down and bury you?"

We do all live at the base of a mountain that we know will roll down and bury us eventually.

Martin said...

Then, there are people who live in West Coast fire zones.

Narr said...

To paraphrase from memory, some Frog thinker, "We are all in a prison cell, from which a few are taken out every day and shot."

My wife can't stand it when I remind her.

Narr
"Hopelessness: The Key to Happiness."

Bilwick said...

Ann Althouse wrote about Roz Chast's CAN'T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT?:

"The memoir isn't all fun.

"It's quite harrowing, the confrontation with the indignities and long decline of extreme old age."

I got the book out of the library because I had heard an interview with Roz Chast on the radio and thought it might interest a friend of mine, an elderly female "Jewish atheist" like Ms. Chast's mother. I ended up reading it twice, and I think it's a minor masterpiece, the way it gets humor, even hilarity from a basically serious, even tragic, situation, without trivializing the tragedy.

My friend reminds me in a way more of Mr. Chast, whom in the radio interview she described as "the Mozart of anxiety," which is how I knew they were Jewish and therefore of great interest to my elderly friend. She loved the book, too.

Bill Peschel said...

"We do all live at the base of a mountain that we know will roll down and bury us eventually."

Death is inevitable. Stay in the path of an impending danger is a choice.

Reminds me of the story of the flood and the man who climbed onto the roof of his home, believing that God will save him. Rather than type it in (with my imperfect memory), I decided to cut and run:

A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.

Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, "Jump in, I can save you."

The stranded fellow shouted back, "No, it's OK, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me."

So the rowboat went on.

Then a motorboat came by. "The fellow in the motorboat shouted, "Jump in, I can save you."

To this the stranded man said, "No thanks, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith."

So the motorboat went on.

Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, "Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety."

To this the stranded man again replied, "No thanks, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith."

So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.

Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, "I had faith in you but you didn't save me, you let me drown. I don't understand why!"

To this God replied, "I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?"

tim in vermont said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lem said...

Variation a joke i heard on the radio a long time ago.

"Little Red Riding Hood was walking in the woods and she fell in a hole."

That's it. That's the joke.

Paco Wové said...

The Hawthorne story reminds me a little of reading a cache of old letters, mid-1800's vintage, that my grandmother had. My God, those were gloomy people. Disease, disaster, and war stalking them everywhere.

BUMBLE BEE said...

Martha = Let me guess... the ambience?

Banjo said...

Ain't jokes sposed to be funny? Ain't that why they call 'em jokes?