Life and Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne

The 19th century had many great achievements happen within its 100-year time period. From the building of the Erie Canal, to the steel plow being invented. From the invention of the telegraph, to Thomas Edison creating the first light bulb. While all of these inventions have stood the test of time, one has lasted just as long; the inspiring tales a novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804. His name by birth was Nathaniel Hawthorne. He added the w to his name when he began to sign his stories. (“Nathaniel Hawthorne” American Writers II) One of Hawthorne’s ancestors was actually a judge in the Salem witch trials. The guilt and shame Hawthorne felt of his ancestors were included in some of his stories. (McGraw Hill, pg.67)

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Hawthorne’s father was a sea captain. He died of fever when Hawthorne was only four. Shortly after his father’s death, his mother was forced to move her three children into her parent’s home and then into her brother’s home in Maine. Hawthorne’s childhood was not particularly abnormal, as many famous authors have claimed to have.

Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College and graduated after four years. After graduation, he returned to Salem. Contrary to his family’s expectations, Hawthorne did not begin to read law or enter business, rather he moved into his mother’s house to turn himself into a writer. Hawthorne wrote his mother, “I do not want to be a doctor and live by men’s diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels. So, I don’t see that there is anything left for me but to be an author.” (“ American Writers II, pg. 227)

For the next twelve years Hawthorne lived in his mother’s house. He Seldemly went out except late at night, or when going to another city. “ I had read endlessly all sorts of good and good for nothing books, and in dearth of other employment, had early begun to scribble sketches and stories, most of which I burned.” Reflected Hawthorne. (McGraw Hill, pg.68)

Hawthorne’s first novel, Fanshawe, was published anonymously in 1828 at his own expense. Because of a lack of sales, Hawthorne recalled every copy he could find of the book and destroyed them. When a local printer delayed publishing his Seven Tales of My Native Land, Hawthorne withdrew the manuscript and burned it “ in a mood half-savage, half-despairing.” Other stories he had destroyed before publication because he thought they were “ morbid.” (The Vanguard Press, pg.34)

Hawthorne traveled to many different places for brief amounts of times. He traveled to New Haven, to Swampscott, and to the mountains of Vermont. Hawthorne kept a notebook with him every place he went in which he jotted observations of places and people, ideas for stories, and phrases, which pleased him. He sold tales and sketches to New England magazines. He was even persuaded to edit a Boston magazine for six months. (American writers II, pg.230)

In 1837, at the age of thirty-two, Hawthorne published his first collection, Twice-Told Tales, Longfellow, the most popular poet of the day, gave it a flattering review. New York magazine editors read it and offered him jobs with them.

Within two years Hawthorne would be married to his wife Sophia. Hawthorne soon realized that supporting a wife was not as easy as he anticipated it to be. He could never manage it by writing stories, so he decided to leave Salem and his mother’s house for a political appointment as measurer of coal and salt in the Boston customhouse. The contrast between his old ways and this new way of life was a shock for Hawthorne. He had hoped to discover what “reality” was like as well as earn a respectable salary, and he gave it a try. After two years, however, he resigned from this “ very grievous thralldom.” He had been able to write little more than notebook entries and he found “ nothing in the world that he thought preferable to his old solitude.” (The Vanguard Press, pg.56)

The Hawthorne’s next moved to concord, Massachusetts. The Hawthorne’s found a happiness neither expected out of life, “ Everybody that comes here,” he wrote in 1843,” falls asleep; but for my own part, I feel as if, for the first time in my life, I was awake. I have found a reality, Though it looks very much like some of my old dreams.” (McGraw Hill, pg. 69)

Hawthorne produced more than twenty tales during three years in concord, sold them to magazines, and then collected them in Mosses from an Old Manse. His reputation was growing. Edgar Allen Poe called Hawthorne, “ the example, par excellence, in this country, of the privately admired and publicly unappreciated man of genius.” (McGraw Hill, pg.69)

It took Hawthorne a return to Salem to bring him fame. A Bowdoin classmate, Franklin Pierce, Found him a job as a surveyor in the Salem customhouse. After three years of dealing with the dullness of the work, he was fired for political reasons. His wife comforted him by saying, “ now you can write your book.” (American Writers II, pg 242) In seven months it was finished. In April 1850, Ticknor and Fields of Boston published The Scarlet Letter.

Hawthorne called The Scarlet Letter, “ positively a hell-fired story, into which I found it almost impossible to throw any cheering light.” Some contemporary critics called it “ America’s first tragedy.” It was no doubt Hawthorne’s most widely known story he ever wrote.

The last fourteen years of Hawthorne’s life were very different from the struggle to be recognized that his entire life had been about. Within a year Hawthorne finished and published another novel named The House of Seven Gables; a story about a Pyncheon family of Salem and Maule’s curse. A year later he published The Blithedale Romance, a satire of Brook Farm. After seven years in Europe, he tried an even more ambitious novel, The Marble Faun. Sadly, none of these novels reached the acclaim that The Scarlet Letter had with critics. (Grolier Electronic Publishing, 1992)

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Life and Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. (2018, Oct 05). Retrieved from