Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1840
Nathaniel Hawthorne was a writer from Salem, Mass best known for his novels The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables. Born on July 4, 1808 in Salem, Hawthorne was a direct descendant of Judge John Hathorne from the Salem Witch Trials. Hawthorne was intrigued by his connection to his ancestor, although it is speculated that he may have eventually added the “W” to his last name to distance himself from his great-grandfather. Hawthorne published two stories under the name “Hathorne” in 1830 but started spelling his name with a W after this date, for reasons unknown.

Hawthorne spent most of his youth in Salem but also spent a great deal of time in Raymond, Maine. After four years at Bowdoin College in Maine, he returned to Salem in 1825 and began working on his first novel Fanshawe. The novel was published shortly after in 1828, at his own expense, but Hawthorne disapproved of it and tried to destroy all copies. He continued writing and published many short stories including “The Hollow of the Three Hills,” “Roger Malvin's Burial” and “An Old Woman's Tale.”

In 1837, Hawthorne published another novel titled “Twice-Told Tales” and met his future wife Sarah Peabody. The couple married in July of 1842 and rented a home in Concord where they were neighbors with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and the Alcott family, including young Louisa May Alcott.

Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1846

The Hawthornes struggled with debt and a growing family and eventually returned to Salem in 1845. There Hawthorne took a job as Surveyor of the Port at the Salem Custom House. He suffered a loss a few years later when his mother died and he lost his job at the Custom House due to a change in the administration.

His frustration drove him to leave Salem again, calling it a “abominable city”, and move to Lenox, Mass where he continued to write. Hawthorne published his most well-known work, The Scarlet Letter, shortly after in 1850, bringing him fame and financial relief. He then began working on The House of Seven Gables, a novel based on the old Pyncheon family in Salem. In 1852, Hawthorne purchased The Wayside from the Alcotts in Concord. This home was the only house Hawthorne ever owned.

Hawthorne continued to write more novels throughout the 1850s until he was appointed to the consulship in Liverpool, England by his old college friend President Franklin Pierce. While in Europe he wrote “The Marble Faun,” based on his sight-seeing experiences in Italy, and “Our Old Home” before moving back to his house in Concord in the early 1860s.

Hawthorne suffered from poor health in the 1860s and died in his sleep during a trip to the White Mountains with Franklin Pierce on May 19, 1864. He is buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.

Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1848
Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1860

Hawthorne's children Julian, Una and Rose in 1862
Julian and Una in the 1850s
Nathaniel Hawthorne's grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Hawthorne in Salem: Biographical Information Relating to Nathaniel Hawthorne

California State University Stanislaus: Nathaniel Hawthorne

American Writers: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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