I used to take regular sojourns to see it. When people visited from California I was sure to take them to Salem so that I could tour the House of Seven Gables again and sit in its gardens--as I recall the docents' spiel mentioned him and his wife which was very romantic to me as well--and then we'd walk over to the Essex Institute to see the painting. (I don't think I told them why; it was a place to visit anyway.) When I saw his visage I felt full of happiness and all was right with the world.
Is it strange to crush on a literary figure? I think I've known men who had a thing for Emily Dickinson. I asked my husband yesterday if he'd had a crush on Sarah Orne Jewett, but he said no, and thought it was an odd question indeed. When I was a girl, I fell in love with Jack London after visiting his house in Northern California with my parents when I was about eleven or twelve. He was dark, handsome, and sort of wild. The house was partly made of rocks, as I recall, and fire had damaged some of it, which lent it the air of the house in Jane Eyre that Joan Fontaine comes back to at the end of the black-and-white version, where she finds Mr. Rochester huddled in the ruins. I used to play that I was in that story, which seemed to me to be mostly about shadows and evil schools. I had seen the movie on TV with my sisters when I was about five or six, and since they were all reading the book one summer, I tried to join in, reading until I got to this line, "From my discourse with Mr. Lloyd," which I now look up and see was the first line in chapter four. I had no idea what it meant and gave up. I couldn't keep up and was always tagging along and lagging behind, which was a metaphor for my life in that family. Instead I wrote an imitation Jane Eyre story called "Anne Garnet" which was about owning only one dress and living in an attic. I learned not to show them what I wrote, because at least one of them was sure to eviscerate my prose as if I were a grad student.
About a year after that my parents took me to a bookstore and I picked out Tom Sawyer, which intrigued me for some reason--I'd probably seen the movie. I loved the illustrations in the Illustrated Junior Library edition and looked at them endlessly. The book was too hard for me to concentrate on for very long but I think I read most of it during the next couple of years, but it was really the illustrations that interested me the most: I liked the rolled-up pants and the straw hats and bare feet. I played that I was Tom Sawyer's girlfriend Becky Thatcher on adventures outside in my yard. This sustained me for all of second and third grades. Later when reading Huckleberry Finn, one learns that Tom is a spoiled kid in comparison to Huck, and is kind of a jerk, too, especially when contrasted with Huck's hard-won and much more likeable maturity.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was my last crush like that. I guess I grew up. After that, I was interested in authors' lives and biographies in a conventional way, and felt awe toward them, which meant that neither they nor their characters could be my familiar--my friend or crush or fellow adventurer. During this next stage, I remember thinking that King Lear had an unfortunate resemblance to my own family, a wholly different kind of familiarity.