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Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Best known for his novels The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) lived most of his life in New England. Hawthorne's writings were influenced by his interest in American history and the various experiences he had throughout his life.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Biography

Nathaniel Hawthorne's psychologically complex and often moralistic writing was very influential in the Dark Romanticism movement.

Dark Romanticism was a subgenre of the Romantic literary movement that was most prominent around 1800-1850 in the United States. Dark Romanticism tends to explore human failings, punishment, and the psychological effects that go along with human imperfection.

Other authors prominent in Dark Romanticism include Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) and Herman Melville (1819-1891).

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Early Life

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts on July 4, 1804. His family had been in New England since the founding of the colonies, and one of his ancestors had been a judge in the famous Salem Witch Trials; Hawthorne was fascinated by this history and would draw inspiration from it for much of his writing.

Hawthorne's father died in 1808 of yellow fever while working as a sea captain. Hawthorne attended boarding school in Salem in 1819 but disliked being away from home; this sentiment would continue when he moved over 100 miles away to attend Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Despite this, Hawthorne did make several good friends there, including Franklin Pierce, who would later become President of the United States.

Some of the other people Nathaniel Hawthorne befriended at Bowdoin College include Jonathan Cilley, who became a congressman, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who became a famous poet best known for "Paul Revere's Ride" (1860).

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Career

Nathaniel Hawthorne's first published work, Fanshawe: A Tale (1828), was based on his time in college. This first attempt failed to sell many copies, and Hawthorne attempted to destroy all the existing copies. Hawthorne began working as a magazine editor in 1836 and wrote short stories for various publications that were eventually collected into Twice-Told Tales (1837).

Nathaniel Hawthorne became enamored with Sophia Peabody and wanted to save up money before proposing to her. He helped found a transcendentalist community called Brook Farm in 1841—though he was not actually very interested in their utopian mission. Rather, he thought the community would be a good source of income to help him reach his financial goals and marry Sophia Peabody. This experience also inspired his novel The Blithedale Romance (1852) which is set in an idyllic farming community.

Nathaniel Hawthorne married Sophia Peabody on July 9, 1842. They moved to Concord, Massachusetts, and lived in a home called Old Manse; while living there Hawthorne wrote most of the short stories collected in Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). The couple had three children: daughters Una and Rose and a son named Julian. After moving back to Salem and taking a job as a surveyor, Nathaniel Hawthorne experienced a period of a few years in which he did not write much. However, in 1850 Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter. This would launch Hawthorne into success; the book became a bestseller and garnered lots of praise and attention for the author.

Later that year, Hawthorne and his family moved to Lenox, Massachusetts. There, Hawthorne befriended fellow author Herman Melville. He wrote The House of the Seven Gables (1851) and The Blithedale Romance (1852) while there, and despite his productivity and the beautiful landscape around them, Nathaniel Hawthorne was ready to move back to Concord by late 1852.

That same year, Hawthorne's school friend Franklin Pierce ran for president. Hawthorne wrote a campaign biography of him, and when Pierce was elected Hawthorne was rewarded with the well-paid position of United States Consul in Liverpool. The position required Hawthorne to regularly travel between his new home in Rock Ferry, England and Liverpool. When Pierce's tenure as president ended Nathaniel Hawthorne's position ended as well, and he and his family traveled in Europe before returning to Concord in 1860.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Death

Though his cause of death is not known, Nathaniel Hawthorne's overall health had been declining for several years. His writing had slowed, and he left several novels unfinished. He complained of stomach pains leading up to the night he died on May 19, 1864.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Books and Quotes

Nathaniel Hawthorne's novels tended to be Dark Romantic novels. They often dive deep into human failures and the psychology of suffering and present lessons in morality. He published five novels and left three more unfinished.

The Scarlet Letter (1850)

She had returned, therefore, and resumed,—of her own free will, for not the sternest magistrate of that iron period would have imposed it,—resumed the symbol of which we have related so dark a tale. Never afterwards did it quit her bosom. But . . . the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, and yet with reverence, too. (The Scarlet Letter, ch 24)

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is the story of Hester Prynne, a woman living in a Puritanical New England colony. She gives birth to a child though her husband has long been presumed dead. She refuses to reveal the father even after she is publicly punished and ordered to wear a red letter "A" on her clothes for the rest of her life as a reminder of her adultery. It turns out that her husband was not dead, and returned to town just in time to see her punishment and learn of her crime. He vows to discover who the father of the child is. Years pass, and eventually he discovers that it was the minister, Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale finally finds the courage to admit his sin to the community and dies, as does Hester's husband now that his vengeance is satisfied. Hester continues living on the edge of town with her child, now proudly wearing her scarlet letter.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, he red letter "A" that Hester must wear is a central symbol in The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne books and quotes, StudySmarterThe red letter "A" that Hester must wear is a central symbol in The Scarlet LetterPixabay

Symbolism is plentiful in The Scarlet Letter, but perhaps the most memorable symbol in the book is the red letter "A" referenced in the title. When Hester is first made to wear the mark, it is a shameful symbol of her sins that sets her apart from her community. However, by the end of the book, Hester has come to view the letter differently; she sees it as symbolizing "Able" rather than "Adultery," highlighting how far she has come and that she has been able to create a fulfilling life for herself and her child through her own hard work.

The House of the Seven Gables (1851)

A man will commit almost any wrong—he will heap up an immense pile of wickedness, as hard as granite, and which will weigh heavily upon his soul, to eternal ages—only to build a great, gloomy, dark-chambered mansion, for himself to die in, and for his posterity to be miserable in. He lays his own dead corpse beneath the underpinning, as one may say, and hangs his frowning picture on the wall, and, after thus converting himself into an Evil Destiny, expects his remotest great-grandchildren to be happy there! (The House of the Seven Gables, ch 17)

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The house that Nathaniel Hawthorne's book's setting is based on, Nathaniel Hawthorne novels and quotes, StudySmarterThe house that Nathaniel Hawthorne's book's setting is based onPixabay

In The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne creates an inter-generational story in which the struggles and woes of the Pyncheon family are followed. The family house was ill-gotten by an ancestor who accused the original landowner of witchcraft—and was then cursed when the man was hanged. Guilt and atonement are major themes throughout this story that deals with the effects of a family member's sin upon the generations that follow.

The Blithedale Romance (1852)

No summer ever came back, and no two summers ever were alike […] Times change, and people change; and if our hearts do not change as readily, so much the worse for us. (The Blithedale Romance, ch 16)

Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance is based upon his time living in the utopian commune Brook Farm; the story is set in a similarly utopian farming commune. The novel explores the tensions that arise between the commune's principles and its individual people's personal desires and romantic relationships.

Other novels by Nathaniel Hawthorne include Fanshawe (1828) and The Marble Faun: Or, The Romance of Monte Beni (1860), and his unfinished novels that were published after his death, The Dolliver Romance (1863), Septimius Felton; or, the Elixir of Life (1872), and Doctor Grimshawe's Secret: A Romance (1882).

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Short Stories

Hawthorne wrote and published many short stories, both individually in magazines and in collections. A few are introduced below.

'My Kinsman, Major Molineaux' (1832)

This short story was first published in a periodical called The Token and Atlantic Souvenir; Nathaniel Hawthorne later published it in his collection titled Twice-Told Tales. The tale is an allegory for the creation of the United States which features a young man, Robin, who looks up to his stately uncle until it is revealed that the uncle is just a frail old man. When Robin realizes this, he finds that he can care for himself better than the old man could.

'Young Goodman Brown' (1835)

In this short story set during the Salem Witch Trials, Nathaniel Hawthorne explores Puritanical morality and religion through the lens of his main character, Young Goodman Brown. Brown's internal struggle with himself leads him to doubt his own morality and faith.

'Feathertop' (1852)

In 'Feathertop,' a witch creates a scarecrow named Feathertop and brings him to life. The scarecrow and a woman fall in love, but when they look into a magical mirror, they both see Feathertop for what he really is—a scarecrow. Horrified by this realization, Feathertop breaks his enchantment and ceases to be animated; the witch reflects that many human men are made up of just as much junk as the scarecrow and yet they think well of themselves. She decides that Feathertop is better off as a scarecrow than a human.

'The Minister's Black Veil' (1836)

Like My Kinsman, Major Molineaux, this short story was first published in a periodical called The Token and Atlantic Souvenir; and Nathaniel Hawthorne later published it in his collection titled Twice-Told Tales. This story relays the tale of Reverend Mr. Hooper, who begins to wear a black veil over his face but will not explain why. He goes through life refusing to ever remove the veil or talk about his reason for wearing it. The veil causes him to lose his engagement and keeps him from friendship and other happiness, but it does help with his job because the veil makes people think of their sins.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Poems

Additionally, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote several poems, though they were not his most popular type of work. Two that are more well known are introduced below.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, In 'The Ocean', Hawthorne describes an eerie peace in a water grave, Nathaniel Hawthorne poetry, StudySmarterIn 'The Ocean,' Hawthorne describes an eerie peace in a water gravePixabay

'The Ocean' (1825)

This poem by Hawthorne is just four stanzas long, with each stanza consisting of four lines. It describes a sense of peacefulness that sailors experience after they have died and are resting in their watery graves in the ocean.

'Oh could I raise the darken’d veil' (1820)

Nathaniel Hawthorne first published this poem when he was only sixteen years old. It is twelve stanzas long. The poem explores the idea of being able to look into the future—only to then realize that you wish you had never done so.

Nathaniel Hawthorne - Key Takeaways

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne was an influential American Dark Romantic novelist.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts on July 4, 1804.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne's novels tend to be psychologically complex and moralistic.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne's most famous works are The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864.

1‘Nathaniel Hawthorne’, Poetry Foundation

2‘Biographical Information Relating to Nathaniel Hawthorne’, Hawthorne in Salem

Frequently Asked Questions about Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American author who wrote Dark Romantic novels and short stories. His most famous works are The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851). 

Nathaniel Hawthorne is best known for his novels The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851). 

Nathaniel Hawthorne is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne used many symbols and metaphors in his writing. His writing was influential in the Dark Romanticism movement.

Nathaniel Hawthorne did not follow any particular religious organization. However, he had strong a belief in God, and rejected the strict Puritan morality associated with his ancestors.

Final Nathaniel Hawthorne Quiz

Question

What year was Nathaniel Hawthorne born?

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Answer

1804

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What literary genre was Nathaniel Hawthorne influential in?

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Answer

Dark Romanticism

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Which of the following are typical characteristics of Nathaniel Hawthorne's writing?

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Answer

Discusses morals

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Which of the following are Nathaniel Hawthorne's two most famous works?

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Answer

'Feathertop' (1852)

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In what year did Nathaniel Hawthorne die?

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1864

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Where did Nathaniel Hawthorne live most of his life?

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Answer

London

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Question

What friend of Nathaniel Hawthorne later became President of the United States and gave Hawthorne the position of United States consul in Liverpool?

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Answer

Franklin Pierce

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Question

True or false: Nathaniel Hawthorne's family had been in New England since the American colonies were founded.

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Answer

True

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Question

What inspired the setting of The Blithedale Romance (1852)?

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Hawthorne's time living in the utopian commune Brook Farm. 

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What was Nathaniel Hawthorne's cause of death?

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We cannot be sure. His health had declined in the last few years of his life, and just before he died he had been complaining of stomach pains.

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When was The House of the Seven Gables written? 

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The House of the Seven Gables was begun a few months after Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter and was published in 1851.

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Who wrote The House of the Seven Gables? 

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The House of the Seven Gables was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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When is The House of the Seven Gables set? 

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The House of the Seven Gables is set in the mid-nineteenth century in Salem, Massachusetts. 

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The House of the Seven Gables can be categorized under all of the following genres EXCEPT

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Plantation Ficton

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What is a summary of The House of the Seven Gables?

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The House of the Seven Gables is about the seemingly cursed Pyncheo family and their house that was ill-gotten. It follows the decline of certain family members and shows how others can overcome the ghosts of the past. 

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Which two characters begin a romantic relationship in The House of the Seven Gables? 

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Phoebe and Holgrave

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Where was the lost deed hidden?

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The papers were behind the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon.

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All of the following elements are fantastical about The House of the Seven Gables EXCEPT

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Clifford's imprisonment

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What is Phoebe's name derived from? 

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The name Phoebe, comes from the Greek term Phoebus, which means light. She is a source of brightness in the dark and gloomy house. 

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At the end of the story, all of the following characters go to live in the country estate EXCEPT:

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Judge Pyncheon

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Who wrote The Scarlet Letter?

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Nathaniel Hawthorne

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In what year was The Scarlet Letter published?

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1850

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Who is Pearl's father?

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Arthur Dimmesdale

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Who is Hester Prynne's husband?

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Arthur Dimmesdale

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Why does Hester wear the scarlet letter?

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It is part of her punishment for the crime of adultery.

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Which of the following genres describe The Scarlet Letter?

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Dark Romanticism

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Which of the following are symbols used in The Scarlet Letter?


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A broken dish

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When is The Scarlet Letter set?

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1642-1649

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Where is The Scarlet Letter set?

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In the Puritan colony in Boston

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True or false: The Scarlet Letter uses a frame narrative.

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True

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True or false: The Scarlet Letter has immediately successful when published.

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True

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Why does Dimmesdale's health begin to fail?

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Because of the guilt he has for his sin and for not confessing it. 

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Question

What is a frame narrative?

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Answer

A literary device in which one story is contained within another. 


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