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Nathaniel Hawthorne

(1804-1864)

from: "Fields of  Vision” by D.Delaney

 

Life and Works

Family background Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, into to a prominent Puritan family. His ancestors were among the earliest settles in the colony, and one of his family members was a magistrate at the Salem witchcraft trials.

Early writing After graduating from college in 1825, Hawthorne returned home and devoted himself entirely to writing, leading an almost reclusive life. During this period the contributed articles and short stories to periodicals and wrote his first novel, Fanshawe, published anonymously at his own expense in 1828.

The Brook Farm Community Reaction to his novel was disappointing. However he persevered with his writing and produced several successful short stories. As his earnings from writing were insufficient, he took a job in the Boston customs house, but he left in 1841 to join other leading intellectuals in a co-operative community farming project, the Brook Farm Community, outside Boston. Those who worked on the farm wished to withdraw from an increasingly commercial society and find time for intellectual and spiritual self-improvement. Hawthorne left Brook Farm after just one year but the experience was to influence some of his works and inspire a novel, The Blithedale Romance (1852).

A successful author The years between 1846 and 1852 established Hawthorne’s reputation as a successful author. He produced a collection of stories called Mosses from an Old Manse (1846), his most acclaimed novel, The Scarlet Letter (1850), and a second novel, The House of the Seven Gables (1851).

The Scarlet Letter The Scarlet Letter is regarded as America’s first psychological novel. Set in the seventeenth century, the novel displays a strikingly modern psychological insight into the forces that drive human behavior. Hawthorn’s interest lies primarily in the exploration of the human soul and in the processes that take place in a character’s mind. The development of the plot is secondary; what happens in society at large and the events surrounding his main characters are of little consequence. The novel’s main passions – sin and guilt, punishment and redemption, fear and shame, pride and selfishness, hatred and destructive revenge – are described in allegorical style and through rich suggestive symbolism.

England In 1852 Hawthorne wrote a biography of his old college friend Franklin Pierce, who was running for the Presidency. After his election, Pierce rewarded Hawthorne with the post of consul in Liverpool, England. The years which Hawthorne spent there (1853-1857) inspired a collection of notes and impressions on England, Our Old Home.

Last years In 1860 Hawthorne returned to the United States, where he worked on several novels that he could not complete. He died in 1864 after a long illness.

 
 
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