Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times (Magill's Literary Annual 1981)
The author of Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times, James R. Mellow, comes well suited to the task of interpreting a major American writer’s life, not only having had considerable experience as a literary critic for The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The New Republic, Commonweal, and other publications, but also having written the acclaimed biography, Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company, published in 1974. At present, he is writing a life of Hawthorne’s friend, Margaret Fuller.
With this study of Hawthorne, Mellow focuses on things other than the growth and development of his subject’s mind, demonstrating how the writer struggled with his art and finally gained the enviable reputation he continues to enjoy. What Mellow brings forth is a vivid sense of the age in which Hawthorne wrote, a time of growth for the young Republic. He sets out to show that unlike Henry David Thoreau, with whom he is often compared, Hawthorne was a person consciously and voluntarily immersed in events of his day. No idle bystander, he helped his old friend, Franklin Pierce, run for the office of President.
Hawthorne is best known as the political appointee musing over ancient Salem, Massachusetts, docks portrayed in his novel, The Scarlet Letter. His self-portrait in the novel is that of a dissatisfied Custom House keeper at once haunted by ghosts of his ancestors and anxious to escape his dull duties. If Hawthorne...
(The entire section is 1385 words.)
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