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Handkerchief Moody

February 02, 1992

Nicholson Baker's Dec. 22 review of Edward Miller's life of Nathaniel Hawthorne ("Salem Is My Dwelling Place") disturbed me with its emphasis on psychological theorizing.

Hawthorne was one of the early masters of the short story, and his "The Minister's Black Veil," based on historical fact, was clearly one of his finest and best-known. The author was particularly interested in tales based on the history of New England, and his inspiration for "Veil" arose from the town of York, Me., in the strange but true account of the Rev. Joseph (Handkerchief) Moody.

In 1710, 12-year-old Joseph Moody accidentally shot and killed his playmate, Ebenezer Preble. Some said Moody was never able to forgive himself. Later, Moody's father coerced him into the ministry, where he felt he was a failure in the eyes of God and man. Soon, tales began to circulate, tales of Handkerchief Moody, who kept his face covered with a linen cloth in public and even in the presence of others in the house until his death in 1753. Some years later (1837), fewer than 50 miles from Moody's parish, Hawthorne wove this factual account into a masterful short story.

I would have preferred more attention to Hawthorne's writing from reviewer Baker and/or author Miller, and less to psycho-sexual speculation.

KENNETH J. PREBLE, FULLERTON

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