American novelist, was born in Salem,The United States. He was the son of Capt. Nathaniel Hathorne and Elizabeth Manning Hathorne. His father, a sea captain, died when the boy was four, and Mrs. Hathorne (Hawthorne added the "w" to the name) returned to her father's house in Salem, where Nathaniel and his sisters were brought up.The history of his family interested young Hawthorne greatly. One ancestor, William Hathorne, had come from England in the Arabella in 1630 and, soon rising to a position of authority in Salem, was remembered in the annals of the town for having given orders that Quakers should be whipped through the streets. Judge John Hathorne, the son of William, sat in judgment upon those accused of witchcraft and thereby drew a curse from one of his victims upon himself and his descendants. Hawthorne later used this episode in his family's history in one of his novels, The House of the Seven Gables.
He read, too, a great deal of Colonial history, both before and after his graduation in 1825 from Bowdoin College, where he was the classmate of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and a class behind Franklin Pierce. This reading gave him a lifelong interest in the psychological constitution of the Puritan, and many of his characters are either Colonial Puritans or people with Puritan traits.The problem of sin, for instance, is a recurrent theme in The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, The Marble Faun, "Ethan Brand," and "The Minister's Black Veil." In all cases, however, Hawthorne's interest is centered on the psychological effects of sin rather than the sin itself. To Hawthorne the greatest sin in The Scarlet Letter was not Hester's adultery, but Roger Chillingworth's attempt to master the soul of Arthur Dimmesdale; in The Marble Faun it is the effects of the sin of murder rather than the murder itself that form the theme of the novel. Finally, in "Ethan Brand" the "unpardonable sin" is Ethan's coldly intellectual psychological experiment on another human being.
After his graduation from college, Hawthorne spent 12 years at home writing tales and sketches which appeared in gift annuals, magazines, and newspapers. His introspective nature was intensified by these 12 years, which he spent almost entirely without the society of his few only friends. He applied himself to his writing, going over his stories and essays again and again. Because they did not attain the standards he set for himself, and possibly because they received almost no public recognition, he destroyed several short stories and as many copies as he could of a novel, Fanshawe, which he had published privately in 1828. Hawthorne drew the backgrounds, situations, and many of the characters of his works from his travels throughout New England during the summers. He spent much of his time at taverns, country fairs, and other such social meeting places, and among the common people who attended such affairs, people to whom he was unknown, Hawthorne's reserve and shyness disappeared. He mingled freely with them and talked with no hesitation. The reading, traveling, and writing of this period proved to be the apprenticeship of his career.
His stories of this period were later collected and published in the volume Twice-Told Tales (1837) through the encouragement and financial backing of his closest college friend, Horatio Bridge. Among the best known of these stories are "The Gray Champion," "The Gentle Boy," "A Rill from the Town Pump," "The Great Carbuncle," "Sights from a Steeple," and "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment." The last story and some of those that followed in the second volume of Twice-Told Tales (1842) are examples of Hawthorne's interest in allegory. "The Celestial Railroad," a parody of Bunyan, is one of the better-known works in this volume. In "Earth's Holocaust" mankind burns all the symbols of aristocracy, including the gallows. Though they are well known, these stories are not among Hawthorne's most successful works.
The years 1839 to 1841, during which Hawthorne worked as measurer in the Boston Custom House, constituted, with the exception of the period he spent later as consul in Liverpool, the most socially active period of his entire life. He developed a close friendship with Longfellow, whom he had not known well in college, and also with George Hillard, the law partner of Charles Sumner. At Longfellow's home he met Cornelius Felton, later president of Harvard, and James Russell Lowell, Longfellow's neighbor on Brattle Street. Hawthorne also became acquainted with Emerson, Thoreau, Ellery Channing, Margaret Fuller, and others through his meeting with Sophia Peabody and her sister Elizabeth in 1837. Through them he became well acquainted with the literary figures in the Boston area, and because he wished to marry Sophia, he set about earning his living. During these years his writing was confined to a series of children's books on Colonial history, which were published by Elizabeth Peabody.
In 1841 a change in the administration in Washington brought Hawthorne's job at the Custom House to an end. Urged by Sophia Peabody, who was greatly interested in the Transcendentalist movement, he joined the Brook Farm Community and invested his savings in it. He hoped to find a suitable place to begin married life, but after a few months he realized that living with a group of people made a lack of privacy inevitable, and he withdrew from the society.
As a general rule, Hawthorne was not comfortable or at ease in the company of groups of friends. Longfellow comments on this fact in his Journal, saying that, tête-à-tête,tete-a-tete, Hawthorne conversed easily and well, but that in a gathering he was silent. Nor was he at ease with other writers and scholars unless he could talk to them privately. Perhaps the long, discouraging years before his talents were recognized left him with a persistent sense of inadequacy in the company of successful writers. He felt, for instance, an exaggerated respect for the poetry of Longfellow, whose success had come quickly and easily; and he was long painfully conscious of his lack of firsthand knowledge of foreign lands, a knowledge possessed by many of his literary friends. Men of other professions, without a working knowledge of his craft, did not affect him in this manner; and his closest friends were Horatio Bridge and Franklin Pierce, who had no literary pretensions.
After their marriage in 1842, Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne went for three years to Concord, where they resided at the Old Manse. Here the happiest years of Hawthorne's life were spent, and here he wrote the stories that were published under the title Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). At the Old Manse, too, the Hawthornes' first child, Una, was born in 1844. She was followed by Julian in 1846 and Rose in 1851.
After the birth of Una, Hawthorne, needing money for his increasing family, accepted a place as surveyor in the Salem Custom House, and while he was there he did no writing, but he was put out of this employment after four years by the maneuverings of local politicians. Shortly thereafter he wrote The Scarlet Letter (1850), which made him famous and assured his success as a writer. During the next two and a half years Hawthorne was at the height of his career. He attained recognition as one of America's foremost writers and the author of the most profound analytical romance yet written in America. The House of the Seven Gables (1851); The Blithedale Romance (1852), drawn from Hawthorne's experiences at Brook Farm; a book of short stories, The Snow Image, and Other Tales (1851); and two children's classics, A Wonder Book (1852) and Tanglewood Tales (1853), were all enthusiastically received.
Hawthorne's literary success brought more financial security, and after spending a year and a half in Lenox in western Massachusetts (1850-1851), he purchased Bronson Alcott's house in Concord, named it "The Wayside," and moved into it in the spring of 1852.
Upon the accession to the presidency of his old college friend Franklin Pierce, for whom he wrote a campaign biography in 1852, Hawthorne was offered the consulship at Liverpool and Manchester, and so went abroad in 1853 for the first time. His reaction to England and Europe and his critical estimate of the English reveal an essential provincialism. At the same time he was more fully aware and appreciative of English culture and history than most Americans. The one romance that resulted from his foreign sojourn, The Marble Faun (1860), was peopled with the familiar Hawthorne characters and filled with minutely detailed but refreshing descriptions of Italian art. By some it is considered better as a guidebook to Rome than as a story. However, its theme, the humanizing of the faunlike Donatello through the consciousness of his crime, resembles the fate of Arthur Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter.
The Hawthornes returned to "The Wayside" in 1861. During his last years Hawthorne published a collection of essays, Our Old Home (1863), giving his impressions of England, and worked at four unfinished novels, Septimius Felton, The Ancestral Footstep, The Dolliver Romance, and Dr. Grimshawe's Secret, all published posthumously. Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, in Plymouth, N.H., and was buried in Sleepy Hollow cemetery, Concord. Among his pallbearers were his publisher James T. Fields and his fellow writers Emerson, Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes, and Alcott.