Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne book cover
Start Your Free Trial

At a Glance

Nathaniel Hawthorne decided to become a writer after graduating from college, but he had to take a number of “regular” jobs during his lifetime to make ends meet. He feared his time in the labor force might compromise his writing ability, but in fact, toil seems to have stimulated his authorship. His work environment during a stint as measurer in the Boston Customhouse is described in the preface to The Scarlet Letter, and his time spent working on an experimental farm resulted in the novel The Blithedale Romance. Despite years laboring at jobs other than those that involved his pen, Hawthorne managed to marry, raise three children, and, most important to the literary world, create a treasury of novels, histories, and story collections before he died at age sixty.

Facts and Trivia

  • Hawthorne’s great-grandfather was a magistrate during the 1692 Salem witch trials; he was instrumental in decrying the guilt of a number of victims.
  • Among Hawthorne’s many illustrious classmates at Bowdoin College were the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and future president Franklin Pierce.
  • The author’s last name was originally spelled “Hathorne.” He changed it after graduating from college so that the spelling would more closely match the pronunciation.
  • Hawthorne was friends with a number of Transcendentalists, including Emerson and Thoreau, though he never fully embraced their views. But that didn’t create any bad blood. Emerson was a pallbearer at Hawthorne’s funeral.
  • Herman Melville dedicated his great novel Moby-Dick to Hawthorne, his good friend.

Download Nathaniel Hawthorne Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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...

(The entire section is 6,148 words.)