Feathertop – Stranger from a Strange Land

Feathertop, a stranger from a strange land, appeared on a city street just as it peaked with life and bustle. His garments and poise suggested nothing short of nobility. He wore a plum-colored coat with a glistening star upon its breast, a waistcoat of costly velvet, a pair of splendid scarlet trousers, and the finest and glossiest of white silk stockings. Walking with measured paces, straight as a soldier, he managed a gold-headed cane with airy grace.

But the most remarkable point in this stranger’s appearance was the fantastic pipe he regularly put to elegant use. It had an exquisitely painted bowl and amber mouthpiece that he applied to his lips every five or six paces to puff deeply. Then, a moment later when he exhaled, smoke could be seen to seep gracefully from his mouth and nostrils. 

As one may well suppose, the street was all astir to find out this stranger’s name.

“It is some great nobleman, beyond question,” said one of the townspeople. “Do you see the star at his breast?”

“Nay; it is too bright to be seen,” said another. “Yes; he must has to be a nobleman, as you say.”

“If he came among us in rags, nobility would shine through a hole in the elbow of his coat. I never saw such dignity of aspect. He has old Norman blood in his veins, I would bet,” remarked a third.

“I rather take him to be a Dutchman, or one of your high Germans,” said another citizen. “The men of those countries have always a pipe at their mouths.”

“And so has a Turk,” answered his companion. “But, in my judgment, this stranger has been bred at the French court. It is there he learned politeness and grace of manner, which none understand so well as the nobility of France.”

“More probably a Spaniard,” said another, “and hence his yellow complexion. Or, most likely, he is from Havana, or from some port on the Spanish main.”

“Yellow or not,” cried a lady, “he is a beautiful man! So tall, so slender! Such a fine, noble face, with so well-shaped a nose, and all that delicacy of expression about the mouth! And, bless me, how bright his star is! It positively shoots out flames!”

“So do your eyes, fair lady,” said the stranger, with a bow and a flourish of his pipe; for he was just passing at the instant. “Upon my honor, they have quite dazzled me.”

“Was there ever so original and exquisite a compliment?” murmured the lady, in an ecstasy of delight.

Feathertop – Hawthorne Illustrated

So goes the story of Feathertop as it advances toward its conclusion. Harold Bloom, renowned literary critic, rates it the best of many Nathaniel Hawthorne tales. You can find our illustrated version in Hawthorne Illustrated, which contains three stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, adapted for middle school readers (and above). 

At least superficially, Feathertop fits the mold of a stranger from a strange land. Nobody except dogs and babies in the town that he visits can peg him for who he is, and no one can guess from where he hails. But Nathaniel Hawthorne didn’t see Feathertop as strange at all. From Hawthorne’s perspective, Feathertop exemplifies the human condition. 

Despite Hawthorne’s satiric intentions, some critics (excluding Bloom) find the story ineffective as satire. They believe it lacks the subtlety satire requires. This is a question that deserves exploration, so i will address it in a future blog. 

In the meantime, if you don’t want to read our adapted, illustrated version of Feathertop, why not go to www.gutenberg.com and download the original, or else read it online? Regardless of the version you choose, we think you’ll enjoy it.

A stranger from a strange land

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