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The life and literary works of nathaniel hawthorne

Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice. Much of the early information came from family members, whose editing of his notebooks, letters, and private material and whose resulting books distorted the portrait they aimed to protect and preserve.

Thus, the Nathaniel Hawthorne who emerges from the first biographical studies seems shy and reclusive, cut off from political and social changes that he seemed to fear, and perhaps a bit repressed. Later scholars, however, demolished that portrait of an artist who retreated to his study in Salem from 1825 to 1837, doing nothing but reading and writing, and attempted to replace it with a picture of a completely normal fellow who enjoyed cigars, alcohol, and convivial company while producing some of the greatest masterpieces of American fiction in his free time.

In fact, the Hawthorne who emerges from a reading of all the biographies and primary material available may be as richly complex, as psychologically intriguing, as fundamentally contradictory, and as open to a multiplicity of interpretations as his best fiction is. When we try to strip off the veils, we find a political conservative fearful of change whose most interesting and most sympathetic characters often explore dangerously radical views; a moralist who seems skeptical of all forms of dogma and most forms of moral pretense; an intensely private man who distrusted politics, but whose lifetime earnings came largely from political appointments and who wrote the official biography for Franklin Pierce's successful presidential campaign; a deeply Christian thinker who avoided churches throughout most of his adult life and provided some of our most critical literary portrayals of the clergy; a writer who at various moments may seem either sincerely feminist or profoundly misogynistic; and an American skeptic who spent his life trying to be faithful to various causes.

No other major American author of the romantic period, sometimes called the American Renaissance, expressed greater doubts about the basic premises of transcendentalism or the possibility of improving human nature through political and social reform. Yet Hawthorne was also the only major American author to commit himself and his life savings to the political, social, and transcendentalist experiment known as Brook Farm. Reading the life of Nathaniel Hawthorne thus becomes almost as difficult as trying to determine what the scarlet letter really stands for in his best and most famous novel.

Family Background and Literary Apprenticeship Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on the Fourth of July, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts, into a family that proudly traced its history back to the early British settlement of New England.

He was acutely aware of the blessings and curses inherent in that ancestry, which included both a Revolutionary War hero his grandfather, Daniel Hathorne and a fervent persecutor of the Salem witches his great-grandfather, John Hathorne. For Hawthorne, awareness of American history was an act of recognition that encompassed both pride and shame.

Hawthorne's father, also named Nathaniel, was a ship's captain who spent most of his married life at sea and died of yellow fever in Paramaribo, Suriname then Dutch Guianabefore the boy's fourth birthday.

The future author was raised and doted on by a family of women—his mother and two sisters, one older and one younger—and an extended family of uncles and aunts from his maternal side. The Mannings, his mother's family, managed stagecoach lines, owned property in Maine, and were fairly prosperous; his uncle, Robert Manning, seemed especially concerned with directing his nephew's education and future. Some critics find a clear biographical basis for Hawthorne's later literary concern with women as nurturers or destroyers; with families, healthy or dysfunctional; and with father figures, oppressive or absent.

The view of Hawthorne as a shy, reclusive artist stems partly from a foot injury that he suffered at age nine, which required or perhaps permitted the boy to spend much of his time alone, immersed in reading.

His appreciation of solitude increased when his family moved to Raymond, Maine, and the teen-aged boy learned the pleasures of lovely walks in woodlands filled with game and unspoiled natural beauty. Hawthorne never embraced the romantic notion of oneness with a transcendental Oversoul manifested in nature, but his early experiences in the Maine woods probably shaped his persistent reliance on imagery drawn from nature, especially his habit of contrasting natural values with those that stemmed from more social, urban, or commercial realms.

There were intervals of formal schooling and some tutoring in Maine and back in Salem, but much of Hawthorne's precollege education occurred through private reading, which exposed him to important allegorical texts notably Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progressto Gothic romances, and to more contemporary works, of which the most important were probably the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott.

At Bowdoin, Hawthorne's classmates included the future politician Franklin Pierce, the precocious Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Horatio Bridge, a devoted friend who provided support during difficult times and eventually wrote Personal Recollections of Nathaniel Hawthorne 1893. In 1825, Hawthorne graduated from Bowdoin College, ranked eighteenth in a class of thirty-eight. He returned to Salem determined to the life and literary works of nathaniel hawthorne himself as a writer, apparently with some completed tales and at least part of a novel.

At one time, Hawthorne's biographers forged the legend of the author working alone in his study under the eaves in Salem from 1825 to 1837, isolated from the world and mastering his craft.

Recent scholarship has replaced that with a more complicated portrait of an artist actively, though not always successfully, engaged in the publishing world.

Hawthorne had undoubtedly heard the era's frequent calls for the creation of a national literature that relied on truly American subject matter and embodied republican principles, but he also faced the reality of a culture that seemed more committed to making money than to supporting artistic creation.

The lack of an international copyright law made it more profitable for American printers to pirate British best-sellers than to nurture local talent, and authors were often expected to subsidize the publication of their books. In some respects, Hawthorne was more fortunate than many other aspiring writers of the time. Small inheritances and support from the Mannings enabled him to devote himself to literary work, and to pay for the publication of his first novel, Fanshawe, which appeared anonymously in 1828.

Hawthorne soon regretted producing this clumsy fusion of the Gothic romance and his college experiences, and he asked friends and family members to burn their copies. He never acknowledged authorship of Fanshawe, and until after his death even his wife was unaware that he had written it.

By 1825, he also seems to have produced a series of short stories, to be called Seven Tales of My Native Land, but after frustrating dealings with a potential publisher, he recalled and destroyed at least part of the manuscript. References to the burning of manuscripts appear surprisingly often in The life and literary works of nathaniel hawthorne remarks and in some of his stories; in The Devil in Manuscript 1835Oberon's burnt papers send out sparks that seem to set the town on fire.

Throughout his career, Hawthorne tended to speak of his own work with a curious mixture of pride, disparagement, and self-doubt; he often expressed reservations, too, about the nature of the public audience for fiction, even while he was seeking to gain that audience's attention. Woven into his strongest fiction is his lifelong struggle to define a meaningful role for artistic expression in a United States that was at its best highly practical, and at its worst callously materialistic.

The Early Tales In the early 1830s, Hawthorne seemed determined to make a place in American culture for the imagination by fashioning collections of tales rooted in the New England past or the American landscape. He failed to find a publisher for his next projected volume, which he hoped to call Provincial Tales, or for The Story Teller, a later series of stories and descriptive sketches woven into a complex frame involving a traveling narrator.

Publishers, however, were very interested in printing his sketches and short fiction in magazines or in annual gift books, and they were quite willing to strip individual pieces from the framework envisioned by the author. Unfortunately, it is now impossible fully to reconstruct Hawthorne's original conceptions for these volumes, but it is clear that Provincial Tales would have contained some of his finest historical tales and The Story Teller would have represented an ambitious attempt to link the American landscape with some impressive works of fiction.

Book publication might have established a significant literary reputation. Instead of appearing in unified books representing the genius of an individual author, however, these early tales appeared anonymously in the Salem Gazette, New-England Magazine, American Magazine, or The Token, providing Hawthorne relatively little in the way of either money or reputation.

Many of these early tales merit attention as artistic masterpieces that established the short story as an important literary form capable of exploring both the psychological and the historical realities of American life. Washington Irving is generally credited with creating the short story by fashioning memorable characters set in a recognizably American setting.

Irving also provided vivid description and offered a vein of genial humor free of overt didacticism, but his experiments with fiction tended to devalue plot.

Hawthorne gave the American short story a sense of architecture—a distinctive form suited to wrestling with moral dilemma, psychological trauma, and historical fact. Hawthorne's carefully structured initiation story moves the protagonist into and out of a symbolic forest setting that ultimately incarnates a complex psychological reality focused on the loss of innocence.

Brown leaves his wife, the aptly named Faith, to journey into a moral wilderness where he will toy with the idea of selling his soul to the devil. When Brown awakes from his trauma, he leaves the forest, confronts and condemns the figures of moral authority he once revered, and ultimately settles into a life of grief and sorrow with his wife and their posterity that will end only with his funeral.

Hawthorne begins by setting his tale in Puritan history and ends by explicitly asking the reader to consider the possibility that the entire story really represents Brown's dream, thus establishing a pattern that the life and literary works of nathaniel hawthorne much of his early short fiction: Hawthorne's short masterpiece embodies the first recognition in American literature that history and nightmare may be inseparable.

  1. For others, it is a fundamentally conservative book that ultimately upholds the sanctity of moral principles and values responsibility to community and society above individual liberty. The work left him some free time for his own writing, and some of the research proved useful for his later works, but the publisher's bankruptcy meant that he received only twenty dollars instead of the promised annual salary of five hundred dollars.
  2. The romance's structure is defined by three scaffold scenes that also mark the book's shift from the political to the psychological.
  3. They traveled throughout Europe and lived for a time in France and Italy where they met fellow authors Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband Robert Browning. In the midst of these personal and financial crises, Hawthorne began writing his greatest work, The Scarlet Letter, which appeared in 1850.
  4. In putting Twice-told Tales together, Hawthorne abandoned his earlier plan of a carefully focused volume in favor of one that would present an author with a broader range of talents and interests, a book with more cheerful and sentimental moments than grim and somber ones, and tales more likely to draw a moral than to probe into the dark corners of the Puritan past or the New England psyche.

Hawthorne also pursued the nightmare of history in Roger Malvin's Burial 1832 and The Gentle Boy 1832both of which detect and emphasize a capacity for self-destruction within the American psyche.

Reuben Borne's self-torment begins when he leaves his dying friend, Roger Malvin, to perish alone in the wilderness and then misleads Roger's daughter, Borne's future wife, into believing that he had provided a proper burial. The burden of concealed guilt, a theme in much of Hawthorne's best work, leads Reuben to pick quarrels and undermine his opportunities for success and happiness.

When repeated failures drive him to seek a new life for his family in the wilderness, he finds himself ironically drawn back to the spot where he abandoned the old man; there, he ends in shooting his own son in an act of symbolic sacrifice.

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Thus his expiation of the crime of concealment comes at a terrible price, which suggests that the sons will ultimately suffer for the sins of the fathers.

The Gentle Boy focuses on the Puritan persecution of Quakers and particularly on Ilbrahim, the title character, who possesses the innocence of childhood but becomes the focus in a process that increasingly equates religious zeal with masochism.

These works merge historical fiction with Gothic preoccupations: The psychological underpinnings of these fictions subvert optimism about American life; fantasies of inevitable social and political progress must give way before the reality of human fallibility and weakness.

Indeed, Hawthorne may have intended that we read these two stories of guilt and self-destruction as ironic counterparts to each other, as parts of the larger study of the American psyche that raises disturbing questions about the meaning and future of American society. It is certainly tempting to read My Kinsman, Major Molineaux 1832 as an ironic inversion of another powerful story of initiation, Young Goodman Brown. The differences, however, are crucial.

Moreover, Robin appears to learn a meaningful lesson from his experience: If these masterpieces of short fiction could be fully restored to the framework that Hawthorne apparently intended for Provincial Tales, his achievement might become even more impressive. Through the interplay of recurrent themes, images, and motifs, these tales establish an ongoing dialogue with one another as they embed the historical meaning of American life into a fundamentally psychological context.

Although we can never be certain which of the early historical works would have made up Provincial Tales, it is important the life and literary works of nathaniel hawthorne recognize that the author envisioned many of his early stories of Puritan New England as components of a larger whole, an inquiry into the meaning and psychological consequences of the American experience in a new world.

In the abandoned plans for The Story Teller, there is more evidence that Hawthorne hoped to develop a literary form much like the short-story cycle that became an important genre in twentieth-century American literature.

His scheme involved a fusion of descriptive sketches drawn from the author's own travels with tales told by an itinerant storyteller to local audiences. Irving's influence can be detected in the plan to merge a series of stories with a narrative of travel, but Hawthorne appears to have been contemplating a much fuller exploration of the role of the storyteller in a democratic society.

No American author of fiction, with the possible exception of Henry James, has devoted greater attention to the artist, to the capacity of art to redeem or alienate, or to the inevitable conflicts between aesthetic values and materialistic concerns.

The Story Teller would have integrated fiction and descriptive sketches within a framework that foregrounded the social role of narration, explored the relationship between author and audience, and probably testified to the special difficulties American writers faced in realizing an artistic vision.

These are themes that Hawthorne would return to in later works, but the dismantling of his coherent visions must have been frustrating. Life as a Professional Writer By 1836, Hawthorne felt obliged to turn to literary hackwork in order to make a living. The work left him some free time for his own writing, and some of the research proved useful for his later works, but the publisher's bankruptcy meant that he received only twenty dollars instead of the promised annual salary of five hundred dollars.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel

With the help of his sister Elizabeth, he also produced Peter Parley's Universal History, on the Basis of Geography for a popular series of books for children, for a fee of one hundred dollars. His sketches and stories continued to appear, and they did much to sustain an annual gift book a genre of illustrated anthologiesThe Token, which increasingly relied on his pen for its strongest fiction. In 1837, Hawthorne finally had a book appear under his own name: Twice-told Tales, a collection of eighteen previously published stories.

Unknown to him, his friend Horatio Bridge had underwritten the publication by guaranteeing a payment of two hundred fifty dollars if the book failed to earn sufficient money. It sold sufficiently well that Bridge never had to pay, and more important, it garnered some very good reviews, including glowing praise from Longfellow in the North American Review. Yet Twice-told Tales seems to many modern readers to be a very peculiar selection, containing relatively few of the early texts that critics now cherish.

In putting Twice-told Tales together, Hawthorne abandoned his earlier the life and literary works of nathaniel hawthorne of a carefully focused volume in favor of one that would present an author with a broader range of talents and interests, a book with more cheerful and sentimental moments than grim and somber ones, and tales more likely to draw a moral than to probe into the dark corners of the Puritan past or the New England psyche.

The edition certainly includes a handful of effective stories—notably The Minister's Black Veil 1836The May-pole of Merry Mount 1836The Gentle Boy 1832and Wakefield 1835 —but these are placed in the context of weaker, less complexly developed tales and some lighter sketches, such as A Rill from the Town-Pump 1835 and Sights from a Steeple 1831. In all fairness, Hawthorne may have measured the public taste correctly.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Contemporary reviews often favored the sketches that critics now ignore. Although the financial panic of 1837 hurt sales and drove the publisher into bankruptcy, the book attracted enough attention to enable Hawthorne to bring out an enlarged edition in 1842, adding seventeen new works but again passing over his earliest masterpieces.

The most interesting additions to the 1842 collection are The Ambitious Guest 1835Peter Goldthwaite's Treasure 1838Endicott and the Red Cross 1838and the four Legends of the Province House 1838—1839works that confront moments of moral and historical conflict without quite rising to the level of the author's finest achievements.

The bulk of the additions, however, simply confirm the portrait of the artist as a pleasant moralist whose occasional lapses into tragedy are counterbalanced by many more genial moments. In his own lifetime, the British author with whom Hawthorne was most often compared was Charles Lamb, the graceful essayist who used the pen name Elia.

It would be overly simplistic, however, to see Hawthorne as surrendering his genius to the demands of a shallow culture.

The sketches that nineteenth-century readers apparently cherished and that twentieth-century scholars usually ignored or dismissed represent a literary form that was more clearly established than the recently invented short story. The literary sketch could claim a somewhat more distinguished pedigree, having been developed in the eighteenth century by Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and other British writers, and then Americanized by Irving into a genial form that dominated periodical publication in the United States for much of the nineteenth century.

Along with Edgar Allan Poe, Hawthorne deserves credit for transforming the short story in the 1830s and 1840s into a flexible mode capable of embodying a wide range of human emotions and experiences, and a powerful vehicle for the expression of the psychological, the tragic, and the symbolic. Nevertheless, both the author and his audience seem to have valued his pleasant descriptive sketches at least as much as his great symbolic tales. The aesthetic principles Hawthorne developed increasingly emphasized the importance of balance and diversity, rather than a unity of mood.

This meant that he worked hard to offset dark, tragic scenes with lighter, more comic moments. Moreover, his notebooks suggest that the basic elements of acute visual description, moral commentary, and ironic reflection, which form the foundation of the literary sketch, came naturally to Hawthorne.

Although we value this writer for a relatively small part of his literary production—the novels and tales that enlarge our understanding of human history and psychology—a full appreciation of his career demands recognition of the diversity of his talent, which could produce good work in a wide variety of modes, including some no longer popular. Nevertheless, Hawthorne's present literary reputation clearly rests on his great symbolic fiction. Of the stories collected in Twice-told Tales, the most impressive is probably The Minister's Black Veil, which focuses on the protagonist's decision to don a veil and his refusal to explain his motivation for this act.