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"Chapter 3: Romanticism: Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864): A Brief Biography"


A Student Project for Professor Reuben's ENGL 2200: American Literature to 1865, Fall 1996


Prepared and presented during class by Rev. Courtney Edward Krier

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts. This background will be the contributing source of his writings as he uses Salem and Early Colonial America as the backdrop to his writings, perhaps making an apologia for his paternal ancestors who persecuted the Quakers [The Gentle Boy] and sat as magistrate during the Salem Witch Trials [the intensity of his regard for witchcraft and curses]. His father, a sea captain, died when he was only four. His further upbringing came from his maternal side, the Mannings.

The Mannings recognized his qualities and sent him to private school, the Bowdoin College (1821-1825). Here he acquired friendships with the future president Franklin Pierce (1853-57) and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. At this time he also acquired a love for solitude and came middle in his class due to his excessive perusal of literary authors. A few of his works began to emerge at this time while he continued his studies as a literary apprentice. These stories read like romance plots of adventure and mystery. Fanshawe (1828) placed the Bowdoin College as center stage, but like many of his works at this time was withdrawn and burned. The basis of this decision may be that of attempting not to copy style, but being more original with the concept of presenting one scene in narrative form. "The Hollow of the Three Hills" (1830) is the first tale published in this manner: "Details of the scene are spare, each item bearing symbolic meaning that is more effective for being so natural as almost to conceal itself.". (Dictionary of Literary Biography, The American Renaissance in New England, Vol. 1, Gale Research Company, Detroit , 1978, p. 82.) Hawthorne was capable of making the reader imagine the possible "conclusions, the meaning, the significances" he desired.

Traveling through the summer, he gathered ideas from various places and published them in a setting of narrating in The Story-Tellers Travels. Unaccepted as a whole, Hawthorne allowed them to be inserted in various magazines of the time. His observations and collections would succeed to be published many times as a reflection and reconciliation to what he desired and what "fate" brought him. Here we must note his attachment to his Puritan upbringing and his seeking spirit that rejected puritanical harshness. What is clear, always comes out muddied and indistinguishable as to the answer in moral issues when the tale is over.

Ending his studies, he returned to the Mannings and then on to Boston to assume editorship of the American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge. Receiving no recompense, he left the position and published Peter Parley's Universal History (1837). His sister Elizabeth assisted him here as she had also the editorship. This was followed by the publication of Twice-Told Tales, a collection of Hawthorne's best tales to date. It was also at this time that he became acquainted with the Peabody sisters. Elizabeth Peabody would rally behind and support his endeavors, yet he chose to become engaged to Sophia. He chose to write and, already initiated through the Peabody sisters into Transcendental groups, hoped to join a commune that promised him plenty of spare time to think and write. The Brook Farm community did not succeed to provide him with his wish, so he left in October of 1841, barely six months later. On July 9, 1842, he married Sophia. This and the experience of his own two children [Una and Julian] added to his romance fiction. In The Scarlet Letter his literary talent bursts forth in the intensity of images and the mastering of psychological truths.

He left Salem for Boston in 1850, where he had as a neighbor Herman Melville. Continuing to take American historical scenes, Hawthorne produced a profusion of works.

With the election of his friend Franklin Pierce as President, Hawthorne was made consul at Liverpool, England. This assured him an income and a chance to see Europe. After the consulship, he dwelt in Florence and Rome for a year. He spent his time in studying the museums and galleries as also the studios of American acquaintances. This tour turned into The Marble Faun (1860).

In the final chapter of his life can be seen a torn man that sees a torn nation. His the loyalty to his friend Franklin Pierce is expressed in dedicating Our Old Home (1863), a look at Hawthorne's stay in England, to him. He died on May 19, 1864, at Plymouth, New Hampshire.

Nothing is written of his family. His son Julian was born in June of 1846 and Una in 1844. Rose would become known for her active work in the care of Cancer Patients rather than in her literary abilities.

Nathaniel had a great influence on American Literature after the reception of The Scarlet Letter. Herman Melville changed Moby Dick to accommodate Hawthorne's way of writing and dedicated the book to him. This style of narrative fictional Romance has created American Fiction. His use of psychological analysis has also been adopted by many authors since he introduced it.

His works give the reader a glimpse into Early Colonialism as also a window into the time of the author. Here one reads of American traditions as well as the struggle that Hawthorne himself experienced with evil and fate and reconciling one's own response to it. The reader finds much allegory in the images Hawthorne creates, forcing one to question and formulate one's own responses to the moral issues that are dimmed by the circumstances surrounding the characters of the story.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's major contributions are: Twice-Told Tales, 1837; Mosses from an Old Manse, 1846; The Custom House and The Scarlet Letter, 1850; The House of Seven Gables, 1851; The Blithedale Romance, 1852; The Life of Franklin Pierce, 1852; and, The Marble Faun, 1860.

Sources: Lauter, Paul. The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Vol. 1, D.C. Heath, 1994; Turner, Arlin. Dictionary of Literary Biography, The American Renaissance in New England. Vol. 1, Detroit: Gale, 1978; Reuben, Paul P., Perspectives in American Literature. CSUStan, Turlock, CA, 1996; Sheehan, Arthur and Odell. Rose Hawthorne. New York: Vision Books, 1959; "Hawthorne, Nathaniel", Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 1996.

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