Title

The phoenix rising: Alchemical imagination in the works of Edward Taylor, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne

Date of Completion

January 1994

Keywords

American Studies|Literature, American

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

This study explores the use of the alchemical opus--the esoteric science which was concerned with the transmutation of base metals into gold--in the works of Edward Taylor, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, three major authors from two distinct periods of pre-twentieth-century American literature who were influenced by hermetic (occult) philosophy and alchemy. Previous accounts of Hermeticism and alchemy in the work of Taylor, Poe, and Hawthorne have been limited to single-work or single-author explications. This study synthesizes these past investigations, and re-envisions them in the context of the canon of each individual author's work. For Taylor, alchemical metaphors became an imaginative way to illustrate the redeeming grace of God upon the soul of fallen man. These same alchemical metaphors were re-discovered in the nineteenth-century (by way of European Romanticism) and used by Poe and Hawthorne to illustrate a broader sense of redemption. These later writers used the alchemical opus not only as a way of describing the transformation of man's fallen soul, but also as a way of describing the transformation of the individual and of culture and as a metaphor for the creative process itself. For Poe, the philosopher's stone became a metaphor for the power of the imagination (a way to the supernal); for Hawthorne, the stone was synonymous with the redeeming power of love. ^