Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Nathaniel Hawthorne (b. 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, d. 1864) was one of the most prominent American novelists of the 19th century. He also wrote many short stories, and most of his work dealt with depressing topics such as guilt and shame as he felt his own family was cursed due to his direct ancestor's pivotal, unapologetic, and never-recanted role as a presiding judge in the Salem Witch Trials. Hawthorne's best-known novel, The Scarlet Letter, dealt with both guilt and shame, as did his well-known short story The Minister's Black Veil. His own religious faith was as a believer but relatively shallow, though some Christians like his work because he wrote about morality, read the Bible regularly, and cited Pilgrim's Progress as his favorite book.

Hawthorne's style is that of dark romanticism, dwelling on the evil side of life. He is revered in Salem to this day, where there is a "Hawthorne Hotel" named in honor of him, which is located on Hawthorne Boulevard.[1] Some consider Hawthorne's writing style to be borderline Gothic, with both of his top novels displaying a concern by Hawthorne with supernatural retribution for sins by a father.[2]

Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter was favored by liberals throughout much of the 20th century for its tendency to weaken codes of morality against sex outside of marriage. But today feminists consider The Scarlet Letter to be "riddled with sexist quips and stereotypes,"[3] and Hawthorne himself is criticized by feminists for supposedly being a “misogynist based on his sexist critique of Fuller and other female authors of the time, with comments made such as 'damned mob of scribbling women.'”[3] Similarly, Hawthorne's description of Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon in The House of the Seven Gables could be considered to be sexist today.

Hawthorne and author Herman Melville struck up a friendship as neighbors, in which the two forged a deep connection, but Hawthorne ultimately rejected Melville's attempts to continue to the friendship. Nonetheless, Hawthorne was deeply influential to Melville's literary career,[4] and Melville later depicted Hawthorne in a negative way in Melville's poem Clarel.

Hawthorne was one of the founders and first directors of the failed utopian community of Brook Farm,[5] but left after six months.[5]


The House of Seven Gables is a novel by Hawthorne inspired by his own ancestors' role in the Salem Witch Trials. A searchable version is available online, and here is a sample paragraph using the concept of infinity in a delightful way:[6]

"Ah, Mr. Clifford Pyncheon!" said the man of patches, "you may scheme for me as much as you please; but I'm not going to give up this one scheme of my own, even if I never bring it really to pass. It does seem to me that men make a wonderful mistake in trying to heap up property upon property. If I had done so, I should feel as if Providence was not bound to take care of me; and, at all events, the city wouldn't be! I'm one of those people who think that infinity is big enough for us all--and eternity long enough."


His father was Nathaniel Hathorne, Sr., born in Salem in 1775 but died as a captain at sea while Nathaniel was only 4 years old. His widowed mother then moved her family (Nathaniel had two sisters also) into the homes of her wealthy brothers, and Nathaniel was raised there in Salem and in Raymond, Maine along Sebago Lake.

On his paternal side Nathaniel's ancestors included Major William Hathorne (c. 1606/7-1681), who persecuted Quakers and even ordered the public whipping of one, and Nathaniel's great-great grandfather was John Hathorne (1641-1717),[7] son of Major William and Anna Hathorne. John was a magistrate judge of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, who was a prominent, unsympathetic interrogator of accused witches at the Salem Witch Trials, and the only presiding judge who did not apologize later for his role. The conduct of these ancestors in persecuting others bothered Nathaniel immensely, and inspired multiple passages in his writings.

Marriage and family life

Nathaniel Hawthorne had a life-long marriage, with three children. There is a dispute among historians as to whether his marriage was a happy one.


The funeral and burial of Hawthorne was itself a notable event:

Emerson, that day, stood beside the grave, and with him Longfellow and Lowell were present; Agassiz, Holmes, James Freeman Clarke, Edwin Whipple, Pierce, and Hillard, had all assembled to pay their last reverence. A great multitude of people attended the funeral service at the old Unitarian First Church in the village, and Mr. Clarke, who had performed the marriage ceremony for Hawthorne, conducted the rites above him dead.[8]

Longfellow later penned a remarkable requiem-like poem about the moment, aptly entitled Hawthorne:[8]

How beautiful it was, that one bright day
In the long week of rain!
Though all its splendor could not chase away
The omnipresent pain.
The lovely town was white with apple-blooms,
And the great elms o'erhead
Dark shadows wove on their aerial looms,
Shot through with golden thread.
"Across the meadows, by the gray old manse,
The historic river flowed;
I was as one who wanders in a trance,
Unconscious of his road.
"The faces of familiar friends seemed strange;
Their voices I could hear,
And yet the words they uttered seemed to change
Their meaning to the ear.
"For the one face I looked for was not there,
The one low voice was mute;
Only an unseen presence filled the air,
And baffled my pursuit.
"Now I look back, and meadow, manse, and stream
Dimly my thought defines;
I only see—a dream within a dream—
The hill-top hearsed with pines.
"I only hear above his place of rest
Their tender undertone,
The infinite longings of a troubled breast,
The voice so like his own.
"There in seclusion and remote from men
The wizard hand lies cold,
Which at its topmost speed let fall the pen,
And left the tale half told.
"Ah, who shall lift that wand of magic power,
And the lost clue regain?
The unfinished window in Aladdin's tower
Unfinished must remain!


Our Creator would never have made such lovely days, and have given us the deep hearts to enjoy them, above and beyond all thought, unless we were meant to be immortal.[9]


A glossary of the vocabulary used by Hawthorne is available online.[10]

See also


External links