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See A Note on the Text
"The symbols of human sensuality are more explicit in the Roman air of The Marble Faun than in any other work of Hawthorne's--and the conclusions of the artist are more repressive....
"There was a tragic element in Hawthorne's painful solitude, [Emerson] said, 'which, I suppose, could not longer be endured, and he died of it.' And The Marble Faun was the final and extreme literary drama which was wrought out of this artist's divided personality, close here to breaking. But we should also remember the marvelous complexity of the novel's thought, the human warmth that pervades the narrative, the ironic humor that plays over it, the pungent realism that so often cuts through this baroque romance of the haunted heart."
--from the introduction by Maxwell Geismar (October, 1957) of the Pocket Books edition
Rome, in 1860, was occupied by Napoleon III's troops and under a despotic papal government of Pius IX, who reacted in a conservative fashion to the short republic of 1849-50, led by Mazzini and Garabaldi (Margaret Fuller had run a hospital for the revolutionaries). [Rup71 xix]
"Of direct relevance to The Marble Faun was the system of papal justice. Trials were held secretly and usually conducted in Latin by the clergy; the accused was held incommunicado and sometimes languished for years between his arrest and his trial; no cross-examination by defense counsel was allowed; there was no court of appeal; and the accused was punished secretly. Publication of the trial proceedings days or weeks after the execution of sentence took the form of long strips of paper pasted on walls and billboards in out-of-the-way corners of the city. Thus the mysterious disappearance of Hilda and Donatello at the end of the book is not a bit of gratuitous mystification on Hawthorne's part, but standard legal procedure." [Rup71 xxv]
"For taken as a whole Hawthorne's Rome and his romance mark the end of the romantic sensibility in the mainstream of American literature. As he says in his Preface, 'romance and poetry, like ivy, lichens, and wall-flowers, need Ruin to make them grow.' The impact of the Civil War on the American imagination made his work a ruin in a double sense. And for the twentieth-century reader, the basic problem is to recover the romantic sensibility which the ruins in The Marble Faun suggest." [Rup71 xxv]
"Nathalia Wright in 'Hawthorne and the Praslin Murder' [Wri42] cites an analogue for the case of Miriam in the murder and suicide of the Duc de Choiseul-Praslin over an affair with his governess, Mlle. Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, a woman whom Hawthorne may have been introduced to in 1851."
--from the introduction by Richard H. Rupp to the Bobbs-Merrill edition, 1971
See the photograph of the marble statue of the Faun of Praxiteles. Note that the book is more about the moral transformation of the real faun, Donatello, while the statue plays more of a role of artistic background to the Romance.
Hilda's Tower (location of the Virgin's Shrine) was apparently drawn from real life.
"Mr. Thompson took me into the Via Portoghese, and showed me an old palace, above which rose--not a very customary feature of the architecture of Rome--a tall, battlemented tower. At one angle of the tower we saw a shrine of the Virgin, with a lamp, and all the appendages of those numerous shrines which we see at the street corners, and in hundreds of places about the city. Three or four centuries ago this palace was inhabited by a nobleman who had an only son, and a large, pet monkey, and one day the monkey caught the infant up and clambered to this lofty turret, and sat there with him in his arms grinning and chattering like the Devil himself. The father was in despair, but was afraid to pursue the monkey lest he should fling down the child from the height of the tower and make his escape. At last he vowed that if the boy were safely restored to him he would build a shrine at the summit of the tower, and cause it to be kept as a sacred place forever. By and by the monkey came down and deposited the child on the ground; the father fulfilled his vow, built the shrine, and made it obligatory on all future possessors of the palace to keep the lamp burning before it. Centuries have passed, the property has changed hands; but still there is the shrine on the giddy top of the tower, far aloft over the street, on the very same spot where the monkey sat, and there burns the lamp, in memory of the father's vow. This being the tenure by which the estate is held, the extinguishment of that flame might yet turn the present owner out of the palace."
--French and Italian Notebooks, 1883, pages 206-7
[This business of the monkey reminds one not only of King Kong but also the similar story of Oliver Cromwell's childhood, with which Hawthorne was no doubt familiar. But he chose to interpret it in favor of Catholicism here.]