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Hawthorne’s “The Snow Image”

Author Rita Smith
Air Date 1/3/2006

Hawthorne’s “The Snow Image” Transcript

Some of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s early stories for children which appeared initially in juvenile magazines ended up in collections of stories for adults. Such was the case with “Little Annie’s Ramble,” which appeared first in Youth’s Keepsake and then, a few years later, in the first edition of Twice-Told Tales. Other stories took the reverse journey. They were written and published for adults, but were reprinted individually with illustrations for the juvenile market. One such story was “The Snow Image: A Childish Miracle,” written for adults and published in 1851 in The Snow Image and Other Twice Told Tales. By the early 1860s, it had been published separately as an illustrated children’s book and continued in print as such for many years, aimed at the 6 to 8 year old reader.

One winter afternoon, so the story goes, Violet and Peony, a brother and sister, go outside to play in the snow. ‘”Let us make an image out of snow,’ suggests Violet, ‘an image of a little girl and it shall be our sister and shall run about and play with us all winter long.'” (7) The snow image takes on magical qualities almost immediately. “It seemed not so much to be made by the children,”Hawthorne writes, “as to grow up under their hands” (12). Suddenly a cold light breeze comes sweeping through the garden and the snow image comes to life, dancing playfully with the children, although, mysteriously, her feet leave no impression in the snow. From the door, the children’s mother sees the snow image, but can’t decide if it is, indeed, a real child, or simply a “light wreath of the new-fallen snow, blown hither and thither by the intensely cold west wind. The mother asks Violet, ‘Is the child a neighbor?’ ‘No,’ Violet replies, ‘This is our little snow sister, whom we have just been making!'” (35) Father arrives home from work, and seeing the little stranger he asks who she is and why her parents have let her outside to play with so little to protect her from the cold. Immediately, with all good intentions and benevolence, and over the vociferous protests of his own children, he leads the delicate frozen child into the parlor (56) and settles her in front of the stove where she melts quietly away until she is just a pool of water on the hearth rug. (62)

When this story was first published as a children’s book, Lewis Carroll’s Alice was a year or two away from falling down the rabbit hole, but in the meantime, children were happy to appropriate such imaginative stories as “The Snow Image” where children dream of creating their own siblings out of new fallen snow, and those dreams, set in a winter wonderland, become happy reality, at least for the children.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Snow Image: A Childish Miracle, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930.

Posted in Literature