Drawing on a wide range of temperance reform literature, this essay examines the temporal dimensions of America’s antebellum crusade against alcohol and their remarkably complex treatment in the tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne. The inebriates in Hawthorne’s tales are not necessarily drinkers (the writer’s fondness for drink is well known), but rather those reformers and idealists who, in their zeal for perfection, seek to obliterate the past. In his richest portrait of this temporal intemperance, “The Birth-Mark” (1843), Hawthorne portrays the perilous nature and effects of the cultural amnesia that flows from America’s intoxicating confidence in the transformative power of industrial technology. To counter the temporal imbalance of an industrializing nation drunk with the spirit of innovation, Hawthorne’s “temperance” tales ultimately offer a distillation of time that transports the reader into a fluid realm of temporal ambiguity where past, present, and future converge. Reaching far beyond its reformist connotations, “temperance” ultimately proves to be a seminal metaphor for the imaginative state of temporal equilibrium that Hawthorne would achieve as a writer of historical romances.

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