Nathaniel Hawthorne: Biography of an American Romanticism Master

Nathaniel Hawthorne is an author who had a deep understanding of the human psyche.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne. (2023, May 3). In Wikipedia.

Born on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Mass., Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist, poet, and short story writer who left an indelible mark on American literature. His ability to delve into the human mind and explore the darker aspects of the human psyche makes him a master of romanticism.

Many consider Hawthorne to be one of the foremost American Romantic writers. Other famous American Romantic writers include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Let’s explore Nathaniel Hawthorne’s biography and his contribution to American literature.

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An author steeped in the Puritan tradition

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born into a family deeply steeped in the Puritan tradition. We can trace his ancestry to William Hathorne, a magistrate who persecuted Quakers. Hawthorne’s father, a sea captain, died of yellow fever when Nathaniel was only four. Raised by his widowed mother and two sisters, Hawthorne enjoyed a solitary, bookish childhood.

Hawthorne graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825 and began his writing career. He was introverted and hated public attention, which came across in his writing. Hawthorne’s debut novel, Fanshawe, was published in 1828 but failed to gain popularity. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne had to take a series of jobs to support his family. After graduating from college in 1825, he worked as an editor for the Boston periodical The Token and Atlantic Souvenir. Hawthorne then took up a series of government posts such as weigher and gauger at the Boston Custom House and surveyor at Salem Custom House. During this time, he wrote many short stories published in magazines such as The New England Magazine, Graham’s Magazine, and United States Magazine & Democratic Review. 

Hawthorne’s writing dealt with themes of guilt, sin, and isolation, inspired by his family’s Puritan background and his struggles. He wrote novels such as The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851), exploring sin and redemption themes. Hawthorne was also known for his short stories, collected in his book Twice-Told Tales (1837) and Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). In addition, he wrote stories such as “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Minister’s Black Veil,” which were rich in allegory and symbolism.

“Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred.”

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter is one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s most well-known works. Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, the novel tells the story of Hester Prynne, who is publicly shamed after she has an illicit affair and gives birth to a daughter out of wedlock. The book examines themes such as guilt, sin, and isolation through its characters and their relationships with each other. It also serves as a commentary on the hypocrisy of Puritan society at that time. Despite being set in the past, The Scarlet Letter still resonates with today’s readers due to its timeless themes and powerful writing style.

Hawthorne’s ability to explore the darker side of human nature, his distinctive use of symbolism, and his emphasis on the power of the imagination, characterized his writing style.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s friendship with Herman Melville

Hawthorne and Melville had a close relationship for many years, despite their differences in writing styles. They met at a dinner party hosted by literary critic Evert A. Duyckinck in 1850 and became close friends afterward.

Melville admired Hawthorne’s work, especially The Scarlet Letter, which he believed to be “the greatest piece of imaginative fiction yet written in America.” He also praised Hawthorne’s use of symbolism and his ability to explore the darker side of human nature. In turn, Hawthorne admired Melville’s unique style, describing him as “a man who has some wild strains in him.”

The two authors exchanged letters frequently; they discussed literature, politics, religion, and philosophy. And in 1851, Melville dedicated his novel Moby Dick to Nathaniel Hawthorne. In the dedication, Melville wrote that he was inspired by Hawthorne’s “genial faith in the beautiful” and thanked him for being “the best and greatest artist in America.”

Hawthorne: An American Romantic writer

Nathaniel Hawthorne was a literary talent who left an indelible mark on American literature. His writing spoke to the darker aspects of human nature in a powerful and haunting way. Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, in Plymouth, N.H. He was 59.

Hawthorne’s books include:

  • Fanshawe
  • Twice-Told Tales
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • The House of the Seven Gables
  • The Blithedale Romance
  • Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys
  • A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys
  • The Marble Faun: Or, The Romance of Monte Beni
  • Weeds and Wildflowers
  • Our Old Home: A Series of English Sketches

Hawthorne was a master of romanticism. His unique blend of symbolism, allegory, and imagination steeped his work in complexity and richness.

See works featuring Nathaniel Hawthorne on Amazon.

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