Saturday, January 4, 2014

Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)

v     Hawthorne was a novelist of the Dark Romantic period, as well as a magazine editor, surveyor, and diplomatic consul, and is considered one of America’s greatest writers.

v     He finished his first novel, Fenshawe, at 24, although he later tried to suppress it, feeling it wasn’t good enough.

v     He wrote several famous novels, including The Scarlet Letter, and The House of the Seven Gables.

v     He wrote many famous short stories, including “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Minister’s Black Veil.”

v     The story of Young Goodman Brown is about a man in a small, Puritan village who is visited by the devil. Mr. Brown resists temptation only to discover that everyone he’s ever known, his wife, his minister, his Bible-studies teacher, they all worship at the devil’s altar. Seeing the hypocrisy and evil of his town, he becomes bitter and cynical.

v     In 1862, Hawthorne wrote the essay “Chiefly About War Matters”, protesting the American Civil War. Published in The Atlantic Monthly, it was highly controversial, partly because of Hawthorne’s description of President Abraham Lincoln. But mostly, it criticized both the ignorant, slave-holding South, and the censorious, self-righteous North.

v     Hawthorne protested the Civil War because he was pessimistic about success, and because he didn’t see the need to fight. “…heaven was heaven still, as Milton sings, after Lucifer and a third part of the angels had seceded from its golden palaces,––and perhaps all the more heavenly, because so many gloomy brows, and soured, vindictive hearts, had gone to plot ineffectual schemes of mischief elsewhere.”

v     He also wrote a biography of Franklin Pierce, America’s 14th president, often considered the worst in US history. They were life-long friends. After Pierce became president, he gave Hawthorne a job as consul in Liverpool, England.

v     Herman Melville dedicated his novel, Moby Dick, to Hawthorne, “In token of my admiration for his genius.”

v     Even Edgar Allan Poe, who didn’t like Hawthorne’s work, called him, “…one of the few men of indisputable genius to whom our country has as yet given birth.”

Personal Life:

Nathaniel was the great-great-grandson of John Hathorne, the only judge of the Salem Witch Trials who didn’t repent from his judgment. Nathaniel added the ‘w’ in his last name to hide the relation, because he was embarrassed. His father, also Nathaniel, was a sea captain who died of yellow fever (Malaria), when young Nathaniel was four.

As a teen, studying away from home, he wrote his own newspaper, The Spectator, which he sent to his family. It included his news, essays, and poems. At 17 he started college at Bowdoin, and met the young Franklin Pierce at a stage stop, starting a lifelong friendship. He also met the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and, more importantly, a young woman named Sophia Peabody, with whom he fell in love.

Seeking a home for himself and Sophia, and hoping to save some money for a wedding, he joined the transcendentalist utopian community at Brook Farm in 1841. He was put in charge of shoveling the hill of manure referred to as “the Gold Mine”. His experience at Brook Farm was an inspiration for his novel The Blithedale Romance.

Hawthorne married Sophia Peabody in 1842. Hawthorne wrote that she “is, in the strictest sense, my sole companion; and I need no other—there is no vacancy in my mind, any more than in my heart... Thank God that I suffice for her boundless heart!” They had three children, Una, Julien, and Rose.

Nathaniel and Sophia moved to many different towns, and were at one point neighbors to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, and Herman Melville. When Pierce was elected, the Hawthornes moved to Liverpool, England, where Nathaniel was made consul. When Pierce’s term ended, Nathaniel lost his position. He and his family travelled around Europe, before heading home.

At the start of the Civil War, Nathaniel and his wife travelled to Washington and the frontlines to witness events. Nathaniel soon complained of stomach pains. As he grew ill, Nathaniel and Pierce took a trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He died in his sleep. At his funeral pallbearers included Longfellow, Emerson, Alcott, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

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