Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, the descendent of a long line of Puritan ancestors, including John Hathorne, a presiding magistrate in the Salem witch trials. After his father was lost at sea when he was only four, his mother became overly protective and pushed him toward more isolated pursuits. Hawthorne’s childhood left him overly shy and bookish, and molded his life as a writer. Hawthorne turned to writing after his graduation from Bowdoin College. His first novel, Fanshawe, was unsuccessful and Hawthorne himself disavowed it as amateurish.
However, he wrote several successful short stories, including “My Kinsman, Major Molyneaux,” “Roger Malvin’s Burial” and “Young Goodman Brown. ” However, insufficient earnings as a writer forced Hawthorne to enter a career as a Boston Custom House measurer in 1839. However, after three years Hawthorne was dismissed from his job with the Salem Custom House. By 1842, however, his writing amassed Hawthorne a sufficient income for him to marry Sophia Peabody and move to The Manse in Concord, which was at that time the center of the Transcendental movement.
Hawthorne returned to Salem in 1845, where he was ppointed surveyor of the Boston Custom House by President James Polk, but was dismissed from this post when Zachary Taylor became president. Hawthorne then devoted himself to his most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter. He zealously worked on the novel with a determination he had not known before. His intense suffering infused the novel with imaginative energy, leading him to describe it as the “hell-fired story. ” On February 3, 1850, Hawthorne read the final pages to his wife. He wrote, “It broke her heart and sent her to bed with a grievous headache, which I look upon as a triumphant success.
The Scarlet Letter was an immediate success and allowed Hawthorne to devote himself to his writing. He left Salem for a temporary residence in Lenox, a small town the Berkshires, where he completed the romance The House of the Seven Gables in 1851. While in Lenox, Hawthorne became acquainted with Herman Melville and became a major proponent of Melville’s work, but their friendship became strained. Hawthorne’s subsequent novels, The Blithedale Romance, based on his years of communal living at Brook Farm, and the romance The Marble Faun, were both considered disappointments.
Hawthorne supported himself through another political post, the consulship in Liverpool, which he was given for writing a campaign biography for Franklin Pierce. Hawthorne passed away on May 19, 1864 in Plymouth, New Hampshire after a long period of illness in which he suffered severe bouts of dementia.. Emerson described his life with the words “painful solitude. ” Hawthorne maintained a strong friendship with Franklin Pierce, but otherwise had few intimates and little engagement with any sort of social life. His works remain notable for their treatment of guilt and the complexities of moral choices.