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Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The work of American fiction writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was based on the history of his Puritan ancestors and the New England of his own day but, in its "power of blackness, " has universal significance.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Mass., on July 4, 1804, into the sixth generation of his Salem family. His ancestors included Puritan magnates, judges, and seamen. Two aspects of his heritage were especially to affect his imagination. The Hathornes (Nathaniel added the "w" to the name) had been involved in religious persecution with their first American forebear, William, and John Hathorne was one of the three judges at the 17th-century Salem witchcraft trials. Further, the family had over the generations gradually declined from its early prominence and prosperity into relative obscurity and indigence. Thus the Pyncheons and the Maules of Hawthorne's Salem novel The House of the Seven Gables represent the two different faces of his ancestors, and his feelings about his birthplace were mixed. With deep and unbreakable ties to Salem, he nevertheless found its physical and cultural environment as chilly as its prevalent east wind.

Early Life and Education

Nathaniel's father, a sea captain, died in 1808, leaving his wife and three children dependent on relatives. Nathaniel, the only son, spent his early years in Salem and in Maine. A leg injury immobilized the boy for a considerable period, during which he developed an exceptional taste for reading and contemplation. His childhood was calm, a little isolated but far from unhappy, especially since as a handsome and attractive only son he was idolized by his mother and his two sisters.

With the aid of his prosperous maternal uncles, the Mannings, Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College from 1821 to 1825, when he graduated. Among his classmates were poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Franklin Pierce, the future president of the United States, who was to be at his friend's deathbed; and Horatio Bridge, who was to subsidize the publication of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales in 1837. At Bowdoin, Hawthorne read widely and received solid instruction in English composition and the classics, particularly in Latin. His persistent refusal to engage in public speaking prevented his achieving any marked academic distinction, but he made a creditable record. On one occasion he was fined 50 cents for gambling at cards, but his conduct was not otherwise singled out for official disapproval. Though small and isolated, the Bowdoin of the 1820s was an unusually good college, and Hawthorne undoubtedly profited by his formal education, as well as making steadfast friends. Such men as Longfellow, Pierce, and Bridge remained devoted to him throughout life, and each would render him timely assistance.

Years as a Recluse

Hawthorne's life was not externally exciting or remarkable, but it presents an interesting symbolic pattern. As John Keats said of Shakespeare, he led a life of allegory and his works are the comments on it. Returning from Bowdoin, Hawthorne spent from 1825 to 1837 in his mother's Salem household. Later he looked back upon these years as a period of dreamlike isolation and solitude, spent in a haunted chamber, where he sat enchanted while other men moved on. The "solitary years" were, however, his literary apprenticeship, during which he learned to write tales and sketches that are still unrivaled and unique.

Recent biographers have shown that this period of Hawthorne's life was less lonely than he remembered it to be. In literal truth, he did have social engagements, played cards, and went to the theater and the Lyceum; his sister Elizabeth remarked that "if there was any gathering of people in the town he always went out; he liked a crowd." Nevertheless, he consistently remembered these 12 years as a strange, dark dream, though his view of their consequences varied.

"In this dismal chamber Fame was won, " Hawthorne wrote, perhaps a little ironically, in 1836. To his fiancée, Sophia Peabody, he later confided, "If ever I should have a biographer, he ought to make great mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed." On the whole, he felt that his isolation had been beneficial: " … if I had sooner made my escape into the world, I should have grown hard and rough, and been covered with earthly dust, and my heart would have become callous by rude encounters with the multitude"—an observation that he made more than once.

Writing the Short Stories

Most of Hawthorne's early stories were published anonymously in magazines and giftbooks. In his own words, he was "for a good many years, the obscurest man of letters in America." In 1837 the publication of Twice-Told Tales somewhat lifted this spell of darkness. In the preface to the 1851 edition he spoke of "the apparently opposite peculiarities" of these stories. Despite the circumstances under which they were written, "they are not the talk of a secluded man with his own mind and heart … but his attempts, and very imperfectly successful ones, to open an intercourse with the world." The Twice-Told Tales he supplemented with two later collections, Mosses from an Old Manse (1846) and The Snow-Image (1851), along with Grandfather's Chair (1841), a history for children of New England through the Revolution; the Journal of an African Cruiser (1845), edited from the observations of his friend Horatio Bridge while he was purser on an American frigate; and the second edition of the Tales (1842).

Hawthorne's short stories came slowly but steadily into critical favor, and the best of them have become American classics. It may well be claimed for them as a whole that they are the outstanding achievement in their genre to be found in the English language during the 19th century. Lucid, graceful, and well composed, they combine an old-fashioned neoclassic purity of diction with a latent and hard complexity of meaning. They are broadly allegorical but infused with imaginative passion. The combination has produced very different opinions of their value, which Hawthorne himself acutely foresaw, remarking that his touches "have often an effect of tameness, " and that his work, "if you would see anything in it, requires to be read in the clear, brown, twilight atmosphere in which it was written; if opened in the sunshine, it is apt to look exceedingly like a volume of blank pages" (1851 Preface, Twice-Told Tales).

Hawthorne is a master of balance and suggestion who inveterately understates: the texture of his tales, as of his novels, is so delicate that some readers cannot see it at all. But many, too, will testify as Herman Melville did to his "power of blackness." Of Hawthorne's story "Young Goodman Brown, " Melville wrote, "You would of course suppose that it was a simple little tale. … Whereas it is as deep as Dante: nor can you finish it, without addressing the author in his own words: 'It is yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin."'

Out in the World

By his own account it was Hawthorne's love of his Salem neighbor Sophia Peabody that brought him from his "haunted chamber" out into the world. His books were far from profitable enough to support a prospective wife and family, so in 1838 he went to work in the Boston Custom House and then spent part of 1841 in the famous Brook Farm community in hopes of finding a pleasant and economical haven for Sophia and himself. It is curious that the seclusive Hawthorne was always interested in experiments in community living: in Brook Farm, in the New England Shaker settlements, and later in Greenwich Hospital in London. He was to record his mingled feelings of sympathy and skepticism about Brook Farm in The Blithedale Romance (1852).

At any rate, Hawthorne and Sophia, whom he married in 1842, resorted not to Brook Farm but to the Old Manse in Concord, where they spent several years of idyllic happiness in as much solitude as they could achieve. Concord, however, contained Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Ellery Channing, and Hawthorne was in frequent contact with these important thinkers, though his was not a nature for transcendental affirmations.

Writing the Novels

Facing the world once more, Hawthorne obtained in 1846 the position of surveyor in the Salem Custom House, from which as a Democrat he was expelled after the Whig victory in the 1848 presidential election. He did not leave without a fight and considerable bitterness, and he took revenge in the "Custom-House" introduction to The Scarlet Letter (1850) and in The House of the Seven Gables (1851), in which he portrayed his chief Whig enemy as the harsh and hypocritical Judge Pyncheon. His dismissal, however, turned out to be a blessing, since it gave him leisure in which to write his greatest and crucial success, The Scarlet Letter. Except for his early Fanshawe (1828), which he suppressed shortly after publication, The Scarlet Letter was his first novel, or, as he preferred to say, "romance"; thus his literary career divided into two distinct parts, since he now almost wholly abandoned the shorter tale.

The period 1850-1853 was Hawthorne's most prolific. Doubtless stimulated by the enthusiastic reception accorded The Scarlet Letter, he went on with The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance, along with AWonder Book (1852) and Tanglewood Tales (1853), exquisitely fanciful stories for children from Greek mythology. During 1850 the Hawthornes lived at the Red House in Lenox in the Berkshire Hills, and Hawthorne formed a memorable friendship with novelist Herman Melville, whose Arrowhead Farm was some miles away on the outskirts of Pittsfield. The association was more important to Melville than to Hawthorne, since Melville was 15 years younger and much the more impressionable of the two men. It left its mark in Melville's celebrated review of Mosses from an Old Manse, in the dedication of his Moby-Dick, and in some wonderful letters. Hawthorne's share in their correspondence has not survived, but he clearly aided Melville with insight and sympathy.

Years Abroad

In 1852 Franklin Pierce was elected to the presidency of the United States, and Hawthorne, who was induced to write his campaign biography, was appointed to the important overseas post of American consul at Liverpool, in which he served form 1853 to 1857 with considerable efficiency. These English years resulted in Our Old Home (1863), a volume drawn from the since-published "English Note-Books." It was to give considerable offense to the English public. Hawthorne felt a very deep affinity for "our old home, " but as with his other "old home, " Salem, his feelings were mingled, and he did not hesitate to express them.

In 1857 the Hawthornes left England for Italy, where they spent their time primarily in Rome and Florence. They returned to England, where Hawthorne finished his last and longest complete novel, the "Roman romance" The Marble Faun (1860). They finally returned to the United States, after an absence of seven years, and took up residence in their first permanent home, The Wayside, at Concord, which Hawthorne had bought from Bronson Alcott.

Last Years

Hawthorne was to live only four more years. Although he had always been an exceptionally vigorous man, his health inexplicably declined; and since he refused to submit to any thorough medical examination, his malady remains mysterious. During these last years in Concord he struggled with no less than four romances, The Ancestral Footstep, Dr. Grimshawe's Secret, Septimius Felton, and The Dolliver Romance, but completed none of them. Ironically, they are obsessively concerned with the theme of "earthly immortality" and the "elixir of life, " which he had earlier touched upon in stories like "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" (Twice-Told Tales).

Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864. He had set off for the New Hampshire hills with Franklin Pierce. He had always been fond of such expeditions and hoped to benefit from this one. But he died the second night out in Plymouth, N.H., presumably in his sleep. The circumstances of his end were somehow representative of the man, at once settled and at the same time restless when too long in one place. He once said that New England was enough to fill his heart, yet he sought the broader experience of Europe. Modest in expectations, he had yet desired to live fully.

Hawthorne's Literary Background

The case of Hawthorne is complex, in his life and in his writings. A born writer, like Edgar Allan Poe he suffered the difficulties of the writer in early-19th-century America: an unsympathetic environment, the materialism of a physically expanding nation, the lack of an artistic tradition. His Puritan heritage was both a support and a drawback. Its tradition of soul-searching encouraged profundity, and its penchant for seeking God's Providence in natural events provided Hawthorne with a way of seeing and interpreting. It was a highly literate tradition as well. It was, however, notoriously unfriendly to art—fiction as make-believe was mere vanity, and as imitation of God's creatures and creations it was idolatry. A natural artist, Hawthorne was always to worry about the morality of imitating and analyzing human nature in his art of fiction.

With his Puritanism, Hawthorne also inherited the Augustan culture of the early 18th century—a common case in New England, but especially powerful in his. Thus came the purity of his prose style, and its coolness and balance, in a sense retrogressive in his own time. Yet he was also responsive to the influence of his near contemporaries, the English romantics. He read widely and was vitally influenced by all the chief romantic poets, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. Hawthorne drew especially upon Coleridge's critical principles for his own theory of the prose romance. Like the romantics, he too desired to live fully and make the best use of his sensibilities, but his impulses were tempered by Augustan moderation and Puritan self-distrust.

A serious and conscientious craftsman, Hawthorne yet was not committed (as was Henry James) to the craft of fiction, not being minded to sacrifice either himself or those who depended upon him to its demands. He held a rather too pessimistic view of his own talent, and his deep Puritan skepticism of the value of merely human effort was also a deterrent to complete dedication to fiction; the volume of his writing is substantial but not great.

Power of Darkness

Hawthorne's belief in Providence could be discouraging, but it was also a source of strength. Along with Melville, he was one of the great "no-sayers" of 19th-century America. He accepted, imaginatively if not literally, the doctrine of the Fall of Man, and thus the radical imperfection of man. In his work there is as much light as darkness, but the dark is perhaps the more dramatic hue. In imaginative literature evil can be an esthetic element with the dark as a contrast to light; and Hawthorne used contrast so effectively that Henry James believed his "darkness" to be mere fanciful playing, with evil and pain used simply as counters in his fictional game. Melville, however, perceived more deeply that Hawthorne might be fascinated with the problem of evil as an element of his design, yet at the same time treat it with the utmost seriousness ("Hawthorne and his Mosses").

Tragedy is traditionally the most complex literary form, while it is also an imaginative testing ground, in which the human spirit is broadened and deepened by its struggle with the utmost imaginable adversity. In The Scarlet Letter, for example, the protagonists Hester and Dimmesdale are opposed not only by Puritan society but by something in themselves, and by a mysterious and invisible principle of reality still more powerful.

Allegorical Structures and Themes

Hawthorne's fictional structures are basically allegorical confrontations of good and evil, and his characters can usually be classified as types. He writes, however, not to prove points or teach moral lessons, which are themselves his fictional materials rather than his conclusions. The House of the Seven Gables, for instance, has a message, "the truth, namely, that the wrongdoing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief." But Hawthorne reflects that when romances do teach anything, "it is usually through a far more subtle process than the ostensible one. … A high truth, indeed, fairly, finely, and skillfully wrought out, brightening at every step, and crowning the final development of a work of fiction, may add an artistic glory, but is never any truer, and seldom any more evident, at the last page than at the first" (Preface, The House of the Seven Gables).

Isolation or "alienation" is Hawthorne's principal theme and problem, and loss of contact with reality is the ultimate penalty he envisions. Characteristically, this results from a separation of the "head, " or intellect, and the "heart, " a term that includes the emotions, the passions, and the unconscious. The heart is the custodian of man's deepest potentialities for good and evil, and it is man's vital connection with reality. Too much "head" leads always to a fatal intellectual pride, which distorts and finally destroys the wholeness of the real world. This, for Hawthorne, is the worst sin or calamity that man is heir to.

Further Reading

Randall Stewart, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1948), is the standard biography. Newton Arvin, Hawthorne (1929), contains criticism and psychological analysis. Mark Van Doren, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1949), presents a balanced interpretation of Hawthorne's life and principal works. Older works include Henry James, Jr., Hawthorne (1879).

Notable treatments of Hawthorne's art in its historical and national contexts appear in Yvor Winters, Maule's Curse: Seven Studies in the History of American Obscurantism (1938); F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (1941); Charles Feidelson, Jr., Symbolism and American Literature (1953); and Richard Chase, The American Novel and Its Tradition (1957), which is illuminating on the tradition of "romance" in America. More specialized interpretations of Hawthorne's fiction are Richard Harter Fogle, Hawthorne's Fiction: The Light and the Dark (1952, rev. ed. 1964) and Hawthorne's Imagery (1969); Hyatt H. Waggoner, Hawthorne: A Critical Study (1955, rev. ed. 1963); and Roy R. Male, Hawthorne's Tragic Vision (1957). □

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Hawthorne, Nathaniel

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Born: July 4, 1804
Salem, Massachusetts
Died: May 19, 1864
Plymouth, New Hampshire

American writer

The work of American fiction writer Nathaniel Hawthorne was based on the history of his Puritan ancestors and the New England of his own day. Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables are classics of American literature.

Childhood

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1804, into the sixth generation of his Salem family. His ancestors included businessmen, judges, and seamenall Puritans, a strict religious discipline. Two aspects of his background especially affected his imagination and writing career. The Hathornes (Nathaniel added the "w" to the name) had been involved in religious persecution (intense harassment) with their first American ancestor, William. Another ancestor, John Hathorne, was one of the three judges at the seventeenth-century Salem witchcraft trials, where dozens of people were accused of, and later executed for, being "witches."

Nathaniel's father, a sea captain, died in 1808, leaving his wife and three children dependent on relatives. Nathaniel, the only son, spent his early years in Salem and in Maine. A leg injury forced Hawthorne to remain immobile for a considerable period, during which he developed an exceptional taste for reading and thinking. His childhood was calm, a little isolated but far from unhappy, especially since as a handsome and attractive only son he was idolized by his mother and his two sisters.

With the aid of his wealthy uncles, Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College from 1821 to 1825. Among his classmates were poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (18071882), and future U.S. president Franklin Pierce (18041869). At Bowdoin, Hawthorne read widely and received solid instruction in English composition and the classics, particularly in Latin. His refusal to participate in public speaking prevented his achievement of an outstanding academic record, but he was in good standing. On one occasion he was fined 50 cents for gambling at cards, but his behavior was not otherwise singled out for official disapproval. Though small and isolated, the Bowdoin of the 1820s was an unusually good college, and Hawthorne undoubtedly profited from his formal education. He also made loyal friends.

Years in seclusion

Returning from Bowdoin, Hawthorne spent the years 1825 to 1837 in his mother's Salem household. Later he looked back upon these years as a period of dreamlike isolation and solitude, spent in a haunted room. During these "solitary years" he learned to write tales and sketches that are still unique.

Recent biographers have shown that this period of Hawthorne's life was less lonely than he remembered it to be. In truth, he did have social engagements, played cards, and went to the theatre. Nevertheless, he consistently remembered these twelve years as a strange, dark dream, though his view of the influence of these years varied.

Writing short stories

Most of Hawthorne's early stories were published anonymously (without an author's name) in magazines and giftbooks. In 1837 the publication of Twice-Told Tales somewhat lifted this spell of darkness. After Twice-Told Tales he added two later collections, Mosses from an Old Manse (1846) and The Snow-Image (1851), along with Grandfather's Chair (1841), a history of New England for children. Hawthorne's short stories came slowly but steadily into critical favor, and the best of them have become American classics.

By his own account it was Hawthorne's love of his Salem neighbor Sophia Peabody that brought him from his "haunted chamber" out into the world. His books were far from profitable enough to support a wife and family, so in 1838 he went to work in the Boston Custom House and then spent part of 1841 in the famous Brook Farm community in hopes of finding a pleasant and economical home for Sophia and himself.

Hawthorne and Sophia, whom he finally married in 1842, resorted not to Brook Farm but to the Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts, where they spent several years of happiness in as much quiet living as they could achieve. Concord was home to Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882), Henry David Thoreau (18171862), and Ellery Channing (17801842), and Hawthorne was in frequent contact with these important thinkers, though he did not take to their philosophical lifestyles.

Writing the novels

Facing the world once more, Hawthorne obtained in 1846 the position of surveyor (one who maps out new lands) in the Salem Custom House, but was relieved of this position in 1848 because of his political ties. His dismissal, however, turned out to be a blessing, since it gave him time in which to write his greatest success, The Scarlet Letter.

The period 1850 to 1853 was Hawthorne's most productive, as he wrote The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance, along with A Wonder Book (1852) and Tanglewood Tales (1853). During 1850 the Hawthornes lived at the Red House in Lenox in the Berkshire Hills, and Hawthorne formed a memorable friendship with novelist Herman Melville (18191912). The association was more important to Melville than to Hawthorne, since Melville was fifteen years younger and the much more impressionable (easily influenced) of the two men. It left its mark in dedication of his Moby-Dick, and in some wonderful letters.

Years abroad

In 1852 Franklin Pierce was elected president of the United States, and Hawthorne, who wrote his campaign biography, was appointed to the important overseas post of American consul (advisor) at Liverpool, England. He served in this post from 1853 to 1857. These English years resulted in Our Old Home (1863), a volume drawn from the since-published "English Note-Books."

In 1857 the Hawthornes left England for Italy, where they spent their time primarily in Rome and Florence. They returned to England, where Hawthorne finished his last and longest complete novel, The Marble Faun (1860). They finally returned to the United States, after an absence of seven years, and took up residence in their first permanent home, The Wayside, at Concord.

Last years

Although he had always been an exceptionally active man, Hawthorne's health began to fail him. Since he refused to submit to any thorough medical examination, the details of his declining health remain mysterious. Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864. He had set off for the New Hampshire hills with Franklin Pierce, an activity he had always enjoyed, hoping to regain his health. But he died the second night in Plymouth, New Hampshire, presumably in his sleep.

Hawthorne once said that New England was enough to fill his heart, yet he sought the broader experience of Europe. Modest in expectations, he had nonetheless desired to live fully. Hawthorne's life and writings present a complex puzzle. A born writer, he suffered the difficulties of his profession in early-nineteenth-century America, an environment unfriendly to artists.

For More Information

Bloom, Harold, ed. Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.

Mellow, James R. Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. Reprint, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Miller, Edward Haviland. Salem Is My Dwelling Place. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991.

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Hawthorne, Nathaniel (1804-1864)

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)

Source

Author

Accomplishments. Nathaniel Hawthorne specialized in short tales and longer romances. While publishing many short stories and sketches in various periodicals, Hawthorne published one short novel, Fanshawe (1828), and two collections of talesTwice-Told Tales (1837) and Mosses from an Old Manse (1846)before publishing the romances for which he is best known: The Scarlet Letter (1850), The House of the Seven Gables (1851), and The Blithedale Romance (1852). He continued to publish collections of his tales, publishing The Snow-Image and Other Twice-Told Tales in 1851, A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys in 1852, and Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys in 1853. He published his last romance, The Marble Faun, in 1860. In addition to his fiction writing Hawthorne published the collection True Stories from History and Biography in 1851 and a political biography of his college friend and presidential hopeful, Franklin Pierce, in 1852.

Earning a Living. An 1825 graduate of Bowdoin College, Hawthorne struggled with the decision of which profession to enter. Hawthorne knew from childhood that he wanted to be a writer, but he also needed to make a living and found it hard to do both. As he wrote to his sister in 1820, No Man can be a Poet & a Book-keeper at the same time. Hawthorne ended up holding several government positions, from 1839 to 1840 as measurer of salt and coal at the Boston Customs House, from 1846 to 1849 as surveyor at the Salem Customs House, and from 1853 to 1857 as a consul in England. He found this work mind-numbing and believed that his writing suffered from it, but since his writing brought him only periods of security rather than a secure livelihood, he had no choice. The tension between the poet and the bookkeeper appeared in many of his works, often in essays such as The Customs-House (which introduces The Scarlet Letter ), where Hawthorne addressed readers directly to explain his theories of literary creation. Hawthornes tendency to disparage his own work in such pieces revealed not only his personal insecurity but also a more general concern about the validity of anyone trying to earn his living through fiction writing.

Sunshine and Shadows. Hawthornes preference for the short tale and for the romance was the result of his fascination with ambiguous symbolism and hidden darknesses. Hawthorne deliberately characterized his novel-length works as romances rather than novels because the form of the romance, as popularized by Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper, allowed the author considerable leeway with historical materials, flexibility that would not be permitted by strict historical writing or by the format of the novel, which tended to operate in real rather than an imagined or distant time and to illustrate or replicate realistic events. By characterizing The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables as historical romances, Hawthorne was able to interpret New Englands Puritan history in a way that made larger points about contemporary American society; in The Blithedale Romance Hawthorne invented a fictional utopian community (drawn in part from his brief stay at Brook Farm) to comment generally on the reform movement.

Personal Life. Although friendly with several members of the Transcendentalist Club and sympathetic to Ralph Waldo Emersons interest in symbolic language, Hawthorne remained on the farthest fringes of this group Personally a shy and reserved man, Hawthorne married Sophia Peabody in 1842 and by doing so married into one of Salems most prominent families. His own family was considerably less demonstrative than hers; he found it painful and embarrassing to inform his family of his engagement, and no member of his family attended the wedding. Hawthorne died in 1864.

Source

James R. Mellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980).

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Hawthorne, Nathaniel

Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804–64, American novelist and short-story writer, b. Salem, Mass., one of the great masters of American fiction. His novels and tales are penetrating explorations of moral and spiritual conflicts.

Early Life and Works

Descended from a prominent Puritan family, Hawthorne was the son of a sea captain who died when Nathaniel was 4 years old. When he was 14 he and his mother moved to a lonely farm in Maine. After attending Bowdoin College (1821–25), he devoted himself to writing. His first novel, Fanshawe (1829), published anonymously, was unsuccessful. His short stories won notice and were collected in Twice-Told Tales (1837; second series, 1842). Unable to support himself by writing and editing, he took a job at the Boston customhouse.

Later, Hawthorne lived at the experimental community Brook Farm for about six months, but he did not share the optimism and idealism of the transcendentalist participants (see transcendentalism), and he did not feel himself suited to communal life. In 1842 he married Sophia Peabody, a friend and follower of Emerson, Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller, and they settled in Concord. There he wrote the tales and sketches in the collection Mosses from an Old Manse (1846).

Later Life and Mature Work

In order to earn a livelihood Hawthorne served as surveyor of the port at Salem (1846–49), where he began writing his masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter (1850). Set in 17th-century Puritan New England, the novel delves deeply into the human heart, presenting the problems of moral evil and guilt through allegory and symbolism. It is often considered the first American psychological novel. Hawthorne's next novel, The House of the Seven Gables (1851), takes place in the New England of his own period but nevertheless also deals with the effects of Puritanism.

For a time the Hawthornes lived at "Tanglewood," near Lenox, Mass., where he wrote A Wonder Book (1852), based on Greek mythology, which became a juvenile classic, and Tanglewood Tales (1853), also for children. At this time he befriended his neighbor Herman Melville, who was one of the first to appreciate Hawthorne's genius. Returning to Concord, Hawthorne completed The Blithedale Romance (1852), a novel based on his Brook Farm experience.

A campaign biography of his college friend Franklin Pierce earned Hawthorne the post of consul at Liverpool (1853–57) after Pierce became President. Hawthorne's stay in England is reflected in the travel sketches of Our Old Home (1863), and a visit to Italy resulted in the novel The Marble Faun (1860). After returning to the United States, he worked on several novels that were never finished. He died during a trip to the White Mts. with Franklin Pierce.

Short Stories

Aside from his importance as a novelist, Hawthorne is justly celebrated as a short-story writer. He helped to establish the American short story as a significant art form with his haunting tales of human loneliness, frustration, hypocrisy, eccentricity, and frailty. Among his most brilliant stories are "The Minister's Black Veil," "Roger Malvin's Burial," "Young Goodman Brown," "Rappaccini's Daughter," "The Great Stone Face," and "Ethan Brand."

Bibliography

See the centenary edition of his complete works, ed. by W. Charvat et al. (16 vol., 1965–85); biographies by his son, Julian Hawthorne (2 vol., 1884, repr. 1968), A. Turner (1980), J. R. Mellow (1980), E. Miller (1991), and B. Wineapple (2003); studies by H. James (1879, repr. 1956), M. D. Bell (1971), N. Baym (1976), T. Stoehr (1978), T. Martin (1983), M. Colacurcio (1984), F. Crews (1989), and E. Miller (1991).

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Hawthorne, Nathaniel

Hawthorne, Nathaniel (1804–64) US novelist and short-story writer. Hawthorne's debut novel was Fanshawe (1829). His short-story collections include Twice-Told Tales (1837) and Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). His masterpiece is the psychological novel The Scarlet Letter (1850). Other works include The House of the Seven Gables (1851), The Blithedale Romance (1852), and the children's books A Wonder Book (1852) and Tanglewood Tales (1853).

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"Hawthorne, Nathaniel." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hawthorne-nathaniel