Hawthorne has attracted a large number of biographies because he was an intensely private person. Because Hawthorne, his friends, and his family cooperated so well to keep his private life private, biographers are forced to combine the public record with inferences based on indirect materials. Miller’s contribution to Hawthorne biography is to focus on the portrait that seems to emerge from the existing correspondence among friends and members of the Hawthorne family. Combining this perspective with consideration of the places Hawthorne knew as well as with his fiction and his carefully expurgated journals and private writings, Miller fills in the portrait of one of America’s first great writers.
Miller’s Hawthorne is a shy and insecure artist, a combination of the main characters in two of his more important stories, “The Gentle Boy” and “The Artist of the Beautiful.” Having lost his father when he was five, Hawthorne and his mother and sisters became dependents in his mother’s family. The tensions this fate produced governed his life, making him feel always an outsider, always on the edge of poverty, always in need of concealing a tender inner self behind masks and veils, never really at home. Though he lived in Salem, Massachusetts for much of his life, he never felt at home there, not only because of his own insecurities but also because of his young, practical-minded nation’s ambivalence toward artists.
Though Hawthorne is its central character, Miller’s readable biography is notable for its portraits of others, especially Hawthorne’s wife, Sophia Peabody, and their children. Also interesting are Miller’s examinations at Hawthorne’s acquaintances with fellow artists, such as Herman Melville.
Sources for Further Study
American History Illustrated. XXVII, July, 1992, p. 18.
Locus. XXVIII, March, 1992, p. 37.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. December 22, 1991, p. 1.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, February 16, 1992, p. 14.
The New Yorker. LXVIII, September 28, 1992, p. 114.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII. November 15, 1991, p. 55.
Studies in Short Fiction. XXIX. Spring, 1992, p. 232.
The Times Literary Supplement. May 22, 1992, p. 16.
University Press Book News. IV, March, 1992, p. 40.
The Washington Post Book World. XXII, February 2, 1992, p. 11.