Nathaniel Hawthorne

Samuel Coale

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2013 | | DOI:
Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Unlike Dickinson, Melville, and Thoreau, who are now viewed as classic American authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his work were never completely ignored by the public and various critics. Hawthorne (b. 1804–d. 1864)—was born Nathaniel Hathorne in Salem, Massachusetts, and came from a long line of farmers and sailors. His most notorious ancestor was John Hathorne, a judge at the Salem witch trials in 1692, which helps explain his constant struggle with the Calvinistic sense of determinism and tragic fate in his fiction. He married Sophia Peabody in 1842 and sought and accepted political appointments to the custom house in Boston and Salem and finally as consul to Liverpool, England, as a result of his campaign biography of President Franklin Pierce, a fellow Bowdoin graduate. He spent a twelve-year apprenticeship in his mother’s family’s home (1825–1837)—his father died when he was four—writing short stories, sketches, and essays, which led to his romantic legend as a hermit and recluse. Success came with The Scarlet Letter in 1850 and went on to include The House of the Seven Gables (1851), The Blithedale Romance (1852), and The Marble Faun (1860) as well as collections of his short fiction and Our Old Home (1863). Early on, critics wrestled with the relationship between his genteel style and his “morbid” subjects, biographers creating either a very pragmatic Hawthorne or a reclusive ghost. The New Critics delved into the psychological and proto-theological themes in his work and trumpeted his use of contradiction, paradox, and the polarized perspectives of his characters, thus concentrating on such tales as “The Minister’s Black Veil” and “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” at the expense of the popular ones in his lifetime, such as “Little Annie’s Ramble,” “A Rill from the Town Pump,” and “Sunday at Home.” Friends such as Elizabeth Peabody and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow consistently praised his work, as did other writers such as Edgar Allan Poe (at first he praised and then disparaged it as too allegorical and thin) and Herman Melville. Criticism has always emphasized the dualisms in his work—good and evil, men and women, and Puritanism and romanticism—as well as his often contradictory responses to such historical issues as the Civil War, abolitionism, feminism, and the delicate political compromises, which upheld the status quo between North and South, of the 1850s. After his four-year stint in Liverpool, he traveled extensively in Italy and returned to Concord, Massachusetts, in 1860.

Article.  12392 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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