Today, Friday, I bring you one of my guest authors, this time a classic. I was recently talking to an author friend (OK, if you want to know, Mary Meddlemore/Martie Preller, my guest on Tuesday) about writers’ biography and personality and how much people might or might not take it into account when choosing books to read.
(I’ll write a note clarifying why we were talking about this for those of you who’re really curious. I don’t want to distract everybody else from the post).*
In the case of Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose books (particularly for me The Scarlet Letter, although I’m quite partial to The Marble Faun and love to quote its ending) and stories I really like, I must admit to also being fascinated by his life and his ancestry. As you know I studied American Literature and you won’t find many authors from more American stock than this one. He has ancestors going back to the first Puritans landing in New England (William Hathorne arrived in New England in 1630), and although to his personal shame, his great grandfather, John Hathorne, was a presiding magistrate in the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts. That’s he added a “w” to his name to avoid that connection. And, appropriately enough, Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on the 4th July 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts. The family home is now a museum. (27 Hardy Street).
His father (also Nathaniel Hathorne), a ship Captain in the U.S. Navy, died when he was only 4 years old, of yellow fever. I’ve read that his mother, Elizabeth Clarke Manning, was quite protective and encouraged him to do things alone, and he grew fairly shy and bookish.
He was interested in writing from very early on and he was writing stories and publishing some in magazines whilst studying at BowdoinCollege in Brunswick (Maine). At College he had met Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and future American President Franklin Pierce (with whom he remained friends all of his life and wrote his biography in 1852). His novel Fanshawe was anonymously published in 1828 (although he later said it was ‘amateurish’). He wrote stories and sketches some included in Twice-Told Tales which was favourably reviewed by Longfellow. Unfortunately (some things don’t change) he couldn’t make a living by writing and took up working, first at the Salem Custom-House (1839). He also lived at the experimental transcendentalist community ‘Brook Farm’ for a year.
[Note: A couple of links of transcendentalism. First our friend Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendentalism
The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy summarises it as: ‘Transcendentalism is an American literary, political, and philosophical movement of the early nineteenth century, centered around Ralph Waldo Emerson. Other important transcendentalists were Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Amos Bronson Alcott, Frederic Henry Hedge, and Theodore Parker. Stimulated by English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Herder and Schleiermacher, and the skepticism of Hume, the transcendentalists operated with the sense that a new era was at hand. They were critics of their contemporary society for its unthinking conformity, and urged that each person find, in Emerson’s words, “an original relation to the universe” (O, 3). Emerson and Thoreau sought this relation in solitude amidst nature, and in their writing. By the 1840s they, along with other transcendentalists, were engaged in the social experiments of Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden; and, by the 1850s in an increasingly urgent critique of American slavery.’ To read the whole article, click here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/transcendentalism/ ]
By 1842 his income from writing had picked up enough to allow him to marry Sophia Peabody (a painter and fellow transcendentalist) and moved to The Manse in Concord, where everybody who was anybody in the Transcendental movement lived (including the Alcotts, yes, Louisa May’s family, Emerson and Thoreau). They had three children, two daughters (Una and Rose) and a son (Julian). The son would later become a writer too.
Hawthorne went back to Salem in 1845 and he was appointed surveyor of the Boston Custom House by President James Polk but dismissed when Zachary Taylor became president (definitely it was who you knew). He published a collection of short stories: Mosses from an old Manse (1846) and started working on his most famous novel The Scarlet Letter. This was completed in 1850 and became an instant success (it was published with ‘The Custom House’ as a preface). The success allowed him to dedicate himself to writing and moved to Lenox (in the Berkshires) where the completed The House of the Seven Gables (1851). He met Melville whilst there and they became good friends for a period. That same year Melville dedicated Moby Dick to Hawthorne. In 1852 they moved back to Concord and bought the house where the Alcotts used to live. That year he also published The Blithedale Romance (that was more than a bit critical of the Transcendentalist movement). In 1853 he took his family to Liverpool where he was posted as U.S. Consul. They also took the chance to travel through Europe and lived in France and Italy for a while, meeting Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. In Italy he wrote The Marble Faun (1860). I remember when we studied it we were told Americans visiting Italy would take it with them to visit the locations of the book.
On his return living in Concord he continued to write about his travels and also an article detailing his visits to battlefields and the White House during the Civil War (“Chiefly About War Matters”).
He died in Plymouth, New Hampshire, on 19th May 1864. He was quite ill and suffering of dementia. He was buried on Author’s Ridge in the SleepyHollowCemetery in Concord. His wife continued to edit his notebooks until her death in 1871 and some of his work was published posthumously.
The literature network:
Eldritch press page
PSB the American Novel page
Author page in Goodreads
American Literature.com (here you can also read his books free online):
2) Free links to his works:
The Scarlet Letter
The Blithdale Romance
Twice Told Tales
House of the Seven Gables
The Old Manse
The Marble Faun (Part 1)
The Marble Faun (Part 2)
*Martie and I were talking about biographies and author’s behaviours because it seems that Amazon has started removing reviews in Goodreads that make reference personally to the author and their beliefs, characteristics, etc, and some people are less than happy. Now you know.
Thank you for reading and if you’ve enjoyed it, remember to like, comment, share and CLICK! IT’S FREE!
- How to deal with writers: Good advice for readers from online resource Ezine (collaborativewriter.wordpress.com)
- Brook Farm and the Transcendentalists (muscleheaded.wordpress.com)
- The Possibility of Progress: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Hall of Fantasy” (3quarksdaily.com)
- “Here once the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard round the world” (summertimegoals.wordpress.com)
- Nathaniel Hawthorne Explores the Liverpool Zoological Gardens (theintermediateperiod.wordpress.com)
- Ghost stories in the library – for Halloween! (spookythingsonline.wordpress.com)
- Six Figments from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books (biblioklept.org)