Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804–64, American novelist and short-story writer, b. Salem, Mass., one of the great masters of American fiction. His novels and tales are penetrating explorations of moral and spiritual conflicts.

Early Life and Works

Descended from a prominent Puritan family, Hawthorne was the son of a sea captain who died when Nathaniel was 4 years old. When he was 14 he and his mother moved to a lonely farm in Maine. After attending Bowdoin College (1821–25), he devoted himself to writing. His first novel, Fanshawe (1829), published anonymously, was unsuccessful. His short stories won notice and were collected in Twice-Told Tales (1837; second series, 1842). Unable to support himself by writing and editing, he took a job at the Boston customhouse.

Later, Hawthorne lived at the experimental community Brook Farm for about six months, but he did not share the optimism and idealism of the transcendentalist participants (see transcendentalism), and he did not feel himself suited to communal life. In 1842 he married Sophia Peabody, a friend and follower of Emerson, Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller, and they settled in Concord. There he wrote the tales and sketches in the collection Mosses from an Old Manse (1846).

Later Life and Mature Work

In order to earn a livelihood Hawthorne served as surveyor of the port at Salem (1846–49), where he began writing his masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter (1850). Set in 17th-century Puritan New England, the novel delves deeply into the human heart, presenting the problems of moral evil and guilt through allegory and symbolism. It is often considered the first American psychological novel. Hawthorne's next novel, The House of the Seven Gables (1851), takes place in the New England of his own period but nevertheless also deals with the effects of Puritanism.

For a time the Hawthornes lived at "Tanglewood," near Lenox, Mass., where he wrote A Wonder Book (1852), based on Greek mythology, which became a juvenile classic, and Tanglewood Tales (1853), also for children. At this time he befriended his neighbor Herman Melville, who was one of the first to appreciate Hawthorne's genius. Returning to Concord, Hawthorne completed The Blithedale Romance (1852), a novel based on his Brook Farm experience.

A campaign biography of his college friend Franklin Pierce earned Hawthorne the post of consul at Liverpool (1853–57) after Pierce became President. Hawthorne's stay in England is reflected in the travel sketches of Our Old Home (1863), and a visit to Italy resulted in the novel The Marble Faun (1860). After returning to the United States, he worked on several novels that were never finished. He died during a trip to the White Mts. with Franklin Pierce.

Short Stories

Aside from his importance as a novelist, Hawthorne is justly celebrated as a short-story writer. He helped to establish the American short story as a significant art form with his haunting tales of human loneliness, frustration, hypocrisy, eccentricity, and frailty. Among his most brilliant stories are "The Minister's Black Veil," "Roger Malvin's Burial," "Young Goodman Brown," "Rappaccini's Daughter," "The Great Stone Face," and "Ethan Brand."


See the centenary edition of his complete works, ed. by W. Charvat et al. (16 vol., 1965–85); biographies by his son, Julian Hawthorne (2 vol., 1884, repr. 1968), A. Turner (1980), J. R. Mellow (1980), E. Miller (1991), and B. Wineapple (2003); studies by H. James (1879, repr. 1956), M. D. Bell (1971), N. Baym (1976), T. Stoehr (1978), T. Martin (1983), M. Colacurcio (1984), F. Crews (1989), and E. Miller (1991).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Selected full-text books and articles

A Historical Guide to Nathaniel Hawthorne By Larry J. Reynolds Oxford University Press, 2001
FREE! The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne J. M. Dent & Sons, 1913
FREE! The House of the Seven Gables By Nathaniel Hawthorne; A. Marion Merrill Allyn and Bacon, 1922
FREE! The Blithedale Romance By Nathaniel Hawthorne Ticknor and Fields, 1859
FREE! Twice-Told Tales By Nathaniel Hawthorne Houghton Mifflin Company, 1882
Hawthorne and Women: Engendering and Expanding the Hawthorne Tradition By John L. Idol Jr.; Melinda M. Ponder University of Massachusetts Press, 1999
The Marble Mother: Hawthorne's Iconographies of the Feminine By Onderdonk, Todd Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 31, No. 1, Spring 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Mesmerism and Hawthorne: Mediums of American Romance By Samuel Chase Coale University of Alabama Press, 1998
Prophetic Pictures: Nathaniel Hawthorne's Knowledge and Uses of the Visual Arts By Rita K. Gollin; John L. Idol Jr.; Sterling K. Eisiminger Greenwood Press, 1991
Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 By Jane Tompkins Oxford University Press, 1986
Librarian’s tip: Chap. I "Masterpiece Theater: The Politics of Hawthorne's Literary Reputation"
"Chiefly about War Matters": Hawthorne's Swift Judgment of Lincoln By Smith, Grace E ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly), Vol. 15, No. 2, June 2001
Letters Turned to Gold: Hawthorne, Authorship, and Slavery By Goddu, Teresa A Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 29, No. 1, Spring 2001
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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