Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Mass. on the 4th July, into a prominent Puritan family. One of his was a judge in the Salem witch trials in 1692: this may explain Hawthorne’s deep feeling of guilt which appears in his works. He lived for seven years in England, as consul in Liverpool and Manchester and in Italy filling his notebooks with observations and impressions. His masterpiece is The Scarlet Letter (1850) which Hawthorne universally famous. It is an enquiry into the nature of American Puritanism and the New England conscience. Another outstanding novel is The House of the Seven Gables (1851) on a haunted mansion and a study on guilt and expiation. Hawthorne’s works are in fact sombre, showing the influence of the Gothic in their fantastic and gloomy atmosphere. Most of his writings are set in the New England past, but he was critical of its narrowness, intolerance and cruelty.
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 – 1864) was a 19th century American novelist and short story writer. He is seen as a key figure in the development of American literature for his tales of the nation’s colonial history.
Life – Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts, where his birthplace is now a museum. His grandfather, John Hathorne was one of the judges of the Salem Witch Trials.
Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College at the expense of an uncle from 1821 to 1824
He joined the transcendentalist utopian community at Brook Farm in 1841; later that year, however, he left when he became dissatisfied with farming and the experiment. He married Sophia Peabody in 1842; they moved to Concord, Massachusetts, where they lived for three years. There he wrote most of the tales collected in Mosses from an Old Manse.
The Hawthornes enjoyed a long marriage, often taking walks in the park. Sophia greatly admired her husband’s work.
In 1846, Hawthorne was appointed surveyor at the Salem Custom House, bust, as a Democrat, he lost this job due to the change of administration in Washington after the presidential election of 1848.
Hawthorne was rewarded in 1853 with the position of United States consul in Liverpool.
In 1857 the Hawthorne family toured France and Italy.
Failing health (stomach cancer) prevented him from completing several more romances. Hawthorne died in his sleep on May 19, 1864,
Novels: The Scarlet Letter (1850); The House of the Seven Gables (1851); The Blithedale Romance (1852) and The Marble Faun (1860)
Hawthorne’s work belongs to Romanticism, an artistic and intellectual movement characterized by an emphasis on individual freedom from social conventions or political restraints, on human imagination, and on nature in a typically idealized form. Romantic literature rebelled against the formalism of 18th century reason.
Much of Hawthorne’s work is set in colonial New England, and many of his short stories have been read as moral allegories influenced by his Puritan background.
Hawthorne is also considered among the first to experiment with alternate history as literary form.