Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 19th Century)

Article abstract: With a series of short stories and novels which bring to life New England’s Puritan past, Hawthorne achieved one of the most distinguished literary careers of the nineteenth century.

Early Life

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts. His great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, was one of the three judges in the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692; his father, Nathaniel Hathorne, was a sea captain who died in Dutch Guinea when Nathaniel was four years old. Hawthorne added the “w” to his name when he was a young man. Hawthorne’s mother, née Elizabeth Manning, came from a Massachusetts family prominent in business. Her brother, Robert Manning, was a well-known pomologist who assumed much of the responsibility for Hawthorne’s care after the death of his father.

Hawthorne spent much of his adolescence in Raymond, Maine, where his Manning uncles owned property, and attended Bowdoin College in nearby Brunswick. He was a Bowdoin classmate of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Franklin Pierce (who would later become President of the United States). As a student, Hawthorne was adept in Latin and English, but was disciplined for gambling and faulty chapel attendance. He was a handsome young man of slender build, with dark hair and eyes. Although quiet, he had a reputation for conviviality and joining friends in clubs and outdoor sports.

Hawthorne took his degree in 1825—he stood eighteenth in a class of thirty-eight—and spent the next twelve years in Salem, where he read extensively and taught himself to write. The product of these twelve years was the indifferent novel Fanshawe: A Tale (1828) and more than forty stories and sketches, including such well-known pieces as “The Gentle Boy,” “Roger Malvin’s Burial,” and “My Kinsman, Major Molineux.” It was a rewarding apprenticeship in terms of his artistic accomplishment, and although it did not bring him much immediate fame or income, the publication of Twice-Told Tales in 1837 successfully launched his career.

In 1838, Hawthorne fell in love with Sophia Peabody of Boston, whom he married in 1842. During their courtship, he spent two years working at the Boston Custom House, and he joined the utopian community at Brook Farm for several months. Both of these experiences later proved fruitful for him as a writer. Hawthorne took his bride to live in the Old Manse in Concord, and there began a life as a happy and devoted husband and father of three children.

A second edition of Twice-Told Tales appeared in 1842, and in 1846, the year he left the Old Manse, Hawthorne published Mosses from an Old Manse. With these volumes, he began to receive high critical recognition. Edgar Allan Poe praised the second edition of Twice-Told Tales in a review that has become famous for its perceptive commentary on Hawthorne’s “invention, creation, imagination, originality.” When he left the Old Manse, Hawthorne was a mature artist, ready to write the novels for which he became famous.

Life’s Work

With the help of influential friends, Hawthorne received in 1846 an appointment as surveyor of the Salem Custom House. He was dismissed from this position in 1849, a victim of the political spoils system, and then wrote his greatest work, The Scarlet Letter (1850). In the introduction to The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne settled what he perceived as some old injustices at the customhouse and invented the fiction of having found his story in an old manuscript in the customhouse.

In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne develops his most powerful theme of the hardening of the heart in what he called the Unpardonable Sin. This theme, essentially an expansion of Saint Paul’s admonition in I Corinthians 13 to practice charity, is dramatized in miniature in “Ethan Brand: A Chapter from an Abortive Romance” (1850). Ethan Brand has sought knowledge tirelessly, searching for the Unpardonable Sin, and when he learns that in his quest he has allowed his heart to atrophy, he realizes that he has found the answer in himself: The Unpardonable Sin is the cultivation of the intellect at the expense of one’s humanity.

Thus, the Unpardonable Sin in The Scarlet Letter is not the very human adultery of Hester Prynne and the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, a sin that takes place before the novel opens and which results in Hester’s scarlet letter “A” that she has to wear on her bosom, but the relentless, unforgiving persecution of Dimmesdale by Hester’s cuckolded husband,...

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Short Stories for Students)

When Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804, the United States was new and unformed. In New England, where his family...

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Although Hawthorne seems preoccupied with sin and guilt, he was far from being a fire-and-brimstone preacher. He believed that God is a spirit pervading all creation and that human failings are punished by natural processes. He did not believe in Heaven and Hell except as symbols of the happiness or suffering that people produce through their own actions. Hawthorne’s ghosts and demons are merely psychological symbols with interesting dramatic and artistic potentialities. This shy, hypersensitive writer had an iron will which enabled him to endure loneliness, discouragement, and financial hardship for the sake of his art. His life and work set a lasting example for American writers.

Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

It is fitting that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birth in 1804 came on the Fourth of July, for, if American writers of his youth were attempting a literary declaration of independence to complement the successful political one of 1776, Hawthorne’s fiction of the 1830’s, along with Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry and fiction and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays and lectures of the same decade, rank as the fruition of that ambition.

Undoubtedly his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, exerted a powerful shaping influence on his work, even though his sea-captain father died when Nathaniel, the second of three children, was only four and even though Nathaniel did not evince much interest in the sea. No one could grow up in Salem...

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1804. On his father’s side, Hawthorne was descended from William Hathorne, who settled in Massachusetts in 1630 and whose son, John, was one of the judges in the 1692 Salem witchcraft trials. Hawthorne’s father, a sea captain, married Elizabeth Clarke Manning in 1801. His mother’s English ancestors immigrated to the New World in 1679; her brother, Robert, a successful businessman, assumed responsibility for her affairs after Captain Hathorne died of yellow fever in Suriname in 1808.

After his father’s death, Hawthorne, his two sisters, Elizabeth Manning and Maria Louisa, and his mother moved into the populous Manning household, a move that on one...

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Nathaniel Hawthorne grew up surrounded by reminders of the town’s infamous past and his own family’s role in the Quaker persecutions and witch trials of the seventeenth century. By the time he was graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825, he had resolved to return to Salem, become a writer, and investigate the influence of the Puritan past on nineteenth century New England.

Hawthorne was a fundamentally reclusive person who avoided revealing himself to others except through the masks of his fiction. His persistent brooding over the historical sins of New England and his fascination with guilt and secrecy dominate his work as early as Twice-Told Tales, his first short-story...

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the greatest of all American fiction writers, was descended from William Hathorne (the w was added by Nathaniel himself while he was in college), who came to Massachusetts Bay from England with John Winthrop in 1630 and as a magistrate ordered the whipping of a Quaker woman in Salem. William’s son John was one of the three judges who presided over the Salem witch trials in 1692. These men were important figures in the early history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; they were also guilty of great crimes. The family fortunes had declined since those early days—Nathaniel’s father was a ship captain who died in a distant port when the boy was only four years old—and Nathaniel, who was...

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (eNotes Publishing)

Born in Salem, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1804, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ancestors were some of the first Puritans to settle in New England. His great-grandfather had officiated at the Salem Witch Trials, causing feelings of guilt that provided a theme for many of his stories. Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine (1821–1824), along with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and at this time he began writing short stories for magazines, including some in his first collection, Twice-Told Tales (1837). Not earning sufficient money by writing, Hawthorne had several jobs, including working at the Salem Custom House. For one year, he lived at the experimental transcendentalist community Brook Farm, along with Ralph Waldo...

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (eNotes Publishing)

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1804. He attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine (1821-1824), and at this time began writing short stories for magazines, including some of them in his first collection, Twice Told Tales (1837). Although he is sometimes considered by critics as an “antitranscendentalist” because of his preoccupation with evil, the dangers of sexuality, and the hypocrisy of human beings, he did live for one year at the experimental transcendentalist community Brook Farm along with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Although his work does not celebrate nature as theirs does, it often does use it as a vehicle to explore issues of art and human behavior....

(The entire section is 244 words.)

Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Short Stories for Students)

The son of a ship captain, Nathaniel Hathorne, and Elizabeth Clarke Manning, Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on Independence Day in 1804 in...

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Novels for Students)

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts on July 4, 1804 to an esteemed family headed by Nathaniel Hathorne and his wife,...

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Novels for Students)

Nathaniel Hawthorne Published by Gale Cengage

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s life seems characterized by continued efforts to make enough money to support himself and his family interspersed...

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Short Stories for Students)

Hawthorne was an American fiction writer best known for his novel The Scarlet Letter. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804, he was...

(The entire section is 524 words.)

Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Young Goodman Brown: Literary Touchstone Classic)

Considered one of the greatest American writers, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 – 1864), is a direct product of his New England background. His father was a sea captain, who died when the boy was only four. Reared in a reclusive setting, Hawthorne became an avid reader, as recorded by the huge number of books he borrowed from the local lending library in Salem, Massachusetts. His uncle sent him to Bowdoin College, where Hawthorne became good friends with the future president, Franklin Pierce, and future poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Hawthorne wrote, but destroyed most of his early writings; however, by the time he was 33, his writing style and content had matured. Critics credit Hawthorne with making the short story acceptable literature in America, especially after his Twice Told Tales was published in 1837.

Haunted by his Puritan past, including a grandfather who was a judge at the Salem Witch Trials, Hawthorne wrote many of his novels and short stories, including The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, and “Young Goodman Brown” with deeply Puritan backgrounds. His contributions to American literature include his meticulous style, intriguing themes, complex symbolism, and psychological insights into human nature.

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Nathaniel Hawthorne was descended from Puritan colonists responsible for persecuting the accused witches of seventeenth century Massachusetts. His sense of guilt over the superstitious cruelty of his ancestors is reflected in much of his writing. His father, a sea captain, died when Nathaniel was only four years old. That the writer grew up without a male role model and was surrounded by adoring female relatives helps to account for his personality, which has been consistently described by biographers as shy, inhibited, narcissistic, and introverted. Ironically, he was an exceptionally handsome young man who was much sought after by the young ladies.

With his widowed mother and his two sisters, Hawthorne had to live...

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography (Short Stories for Students)

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, the second of three children born to Nathaniel and Elizabeth Hathorne....

(The entire section is 874 words.)