Hawthorne’s Rome is the home of dark and evil catacombs. It is a city haunted by evil spirits from the past that actively shape the romance’s plot. Rome’s dark gardens, endless staircases, hidden corners and vast catacombs, as well as the malodorous Jewish ghetto, affect Donatello’s and Miriam’s judgment, almost forcing them to get rid of the Model, Miriam’s persecutor. Hawthorne’s narrator’s shockingly violent, harsh and seemingly anti-Semitic description of the ghetto in Rome is just one among many similarly ruthless, and at times offensive, accounts of the city wherein Hawthorne situates his last completed romance, The Marble Faun. Hawthorne’s two-year stay in Rome in 1858-59 sets the scene for his conception of The Marble Faun. In addition to providing Hawthorne with the extensive contact with art and artists that undoubtedly affected the choice of his protagonists (Kenyon, a sculptor; Hilda and Miriam, painters), Italy exposed Hawthorne to Jewish traditions and history, as well as to the life of Jews in the Roman ghetto. Most probably it also aroused his interest in some of the political affairs in which Italian Jews were involved in the 1840s and 50s. This historical background, especially the well-publicized abduction and conversion of a Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, in 1858 provides important political and cultural background for Hawthorne’s portrayal of Miriam in The Marble Faun.
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