Septimius Felton is a little-known work by the well known Nathaniel Hawthorne. The book was the third of four attempts Hawthorne made near the end of his life to construct a full-fledged romance. His first two attempts were titled The Ancestral Footstep and Doctor Grimshaw's Secret. The final try was called The Dolliver Romance. Thus, Septimius Felton has been conveniently junked with the other scraps Hawthorne produced in his last few years, but it has been unjustly criticized, I believe, for the little novel not only shows the author's skill and talent but also offers the reader pleasurable reading.
Because I enjoyed the book so thoroughly myself, I wondered why I had never even heard it mentioned before. Researching the criticism answered the question, and Chapter One of this paper reviews quickly the limited attention it has received, the majority of which is negative. Critics seem to know of the work's existence; some few mention it, but less than ten give it any real discussion. More often than not the four fragments are assessed as a unit, not individual works, and little attempt is made to clarify how the remarks may apply to any one of the four. Generally, Septimius has been put aside, a Sleeping Beauty of the library archives forest.
But unlike the majority of learned Critic-princes, I felt Septimius Felton deserved to be awakened and presented to the reading public. Spurred on by the fascination it held for me, I examined the book to see if I had been but enchanted or if the book had a significance on its own right. I discovered three important things in my study and devoted a chapter to a discussion of each.
First, the work was not a fanciful first draft, spun from Hawthorne's wild imagination without any attention to detail. By comparing the notes which preceded the writing of the novel with the printed text, one can see a concerted effort on the author's part to narrow the scope of the novel in place and time, to tighten the action by elimination of unnecessary material, to invent interesting action, dialogues and characters, in order to express what initially had been but dull philosophic pondering.
Second, the novel itself has an interesting, followable plot developed in 250-plus pages. And while the plot alone might keep a reader's interest, the plot presents a profound theme--man's earthly struggle between good and evil. To heighten the effectiveness of the plot and theme, Hawthorne adds his own particular genius in two ways. He writes many exceptional passages, whose beauty cannot be ignored, and he adds exciting emotional touches with wild elements that only he could be credited with inventing.
Third, Hawthorne creates a group of characters that live. They are unique but believable, reminiscent of old Hawthorne stereotypes, yet new and certainly interesting. And these characters prove that Hawthorne still wielded skill as an artist, for not only are the characters unique, but as a group they also underscore the theme of the book. For in the struggle man has with evil, one character, Aunt Keziah, represents the struggle itself while the other six represent the two choices given each human being, and at the end of the book, three characters represent the choice of good and three the choice of evil.
Thus Septimius "Sleeping Beauty'' Felton, upon being awakened, is found to have more than an enchanting exterior; it has also depth of character. And having depth, the book needs to be read, deserves to be studied for further evidences of its strength and beauty.
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Hawthorne; Nathaniel; 1804-1864; Septimius Felton.
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Dietrich, Pam, "Septimius Felton: Hawthorne's Last Novel" (1979). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 1054.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives