Life and Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Throughout the 19th century, numerous significant accomplishments took place. Key events included the construction of the Erie Canal and the invention of the steel plow. Additionally, the telegraph was invented and Thomas Edison successfully created the first light bulb. While these inventions have endured over time, another enduring creation from this era is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s inspiring novel.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, originally named Nathaniel Hawthorne, was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804. He later added the letter “w” to his name when he started signing his stories. According to “American Writers II,” one of Hawthorne’s ancestors had served as a judge during the Salem witch trials. The feelings of guilt and shame that Hawthorne experienced due to his ancestors were reflected in certain stories he wrote, as mentioned in McGraw Hill page 67.

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At the age of four, Hawthorne’s father, a sea captain, died from fever. After his death, Hawthorne and his two siblings moved with their mother to her parents’ house in Maine. Later on, they relocated again to live with her brother. Hawthorne’s childhood was similar to that of many famous writers.

Hawthorne graduated from Bowdoin College after four years, defying his family’s expectations by deciding to become a writer instead of pursuing law or business. He surprised them further by expressing his desire to not pursue careers in medicine, ministry, or law, ultimately believing that becoming an author was his only remaining option. (“American Writers II, pg. 227”)

For a period of twelve years, Hawthorne seldom left his mother’s residence and only went outside during the night or for journeys to different cities. Throughout this duration, he immersed himself in a diverse selection of books, both valuable and insignificant, and with no other obligations at hand, he began crafting sketches and stories, most of which he eventually discarded.

Hawthorne’s first novel, Fanshawe, was published in 1828 using a fake name and at his personal expense. However, it didn’t sell well, so Hawthorne decided to collect and destroy all available copies of the book. In a similar fashion, when a printer nearby delayed publishing his Seven Tales of My Native Land, Hawthorne withdrew the manuscript and burned it out of frustration and despair. Additionally, before publication, he had previously destroyed other stories because he felt they were too melancholic. (Source: The Vanguard Press, pg.34)

Hawthorne embarked on numerous short journeys, visiting New Haven, Swampscott, and the mountains of Vermont. Throughout his travels, he carried a notebook with him, in which he recorded his observations of various locations and individuals, as well as ideas for stories and phrases that caught his interest. Hawthorne successfully sold his stories and sketches to magazines in New England, and he even accepted an offer to edit a Boston magazine for a duration of six months (American writers II, pg.230).

At the age of thirty-two in 1837, Hawthorne published his initial collection called Twice-Told Tales. Longfellow, who was the most esteemed poet during that time, gave it a positive review. Editors from New York magazines read it and extended job offers to him.

Within two years Hawthorne would be married to his wife Sophia. However, he soon discovered that supporting a wife was not as easy as he had anticipated. Writing stories alone could not provide enough income, so he made the decision to leave Salem and his mother’s house. Instead, he accepted a political appointment as the measurer of coal and salt in the Boston customhouse. This transition was quite jarring for Hawthorne, as he had hoped to explore the realities of life and earn a respectable salary. Despite his efforts, after two years he chose to resign from this daunting position. Throughout his time there, he was only able to write a few notebook entries and ultimately realized that he preferred his old solitude over anything else in the world (The Vanguard Press, pg. 56).

The Hawthorne family moved to Concord, Massachusetts and found unexpected happiness in their new life. In 1843, Nathaniel Hawthorne described this experience by saying, “Everyone who comes here falls asleep, but I personally feel like I am finally awake for the first time in my life. I have discovered a reality that resembles my old dreams” (McGraw Hill, pg. 69).

During his time in Concord, Hawthorne wrote over twenty tales which he sold to magazines and later compiled into a collection called Mosses from an Old Manse. His reputation was steadily increasing and he was highly regarded by Edgar Allen Poe, who referred to him as “the example, par excellence, in this country, of the privately admired and publicly unappreciated man of genius.” (McGraw Hill, pg.69)

Hawthorne gained fame when he came back to Salem. With the assistance of his Bowdoin classmate Franklin Pierce, he secured a job as a surveyor in the Salem customhouse. Nonetheless, after enduring the tediousness of the position for three years, he was fired due to political reasons. His wife comforted him by saying, “now you can write your book.” (American Writers II, pg 242) In just seven months, Hawthorne finished the book, which Ticknor and Fields of Boston published as The Scarlet Letter in April 1850.

According to Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter was a story that he found incredibly difficult to bring any positive light to. However, some modern critics referred to it as the first tragedy in America. Without a doubt, it was Hawthorne’s most renowned work.

In the last fourteen years of his life, Hawthorne experienced a marked shift from the lifelong struggle to gain recognition. During this period, he swiftly completed and published The House of Seven Gables, a novel centered around the Pyncheon family of Salem and Maule’s curse. Within the following year, Hawthorne released another publication, The Blithedale Romance, which satirically portrayed life at Brook Farm. After spending seven years in Europe, he embarked on an even more ambitious literary endeavor with The Marble Faun. Sadly, none of these novels achieved the same level of critical acclaim as his renowned work, The Scarlet Letter. (Grolier Electronic Publishing, 1992)

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