The Scarlet Letter
David Stuart Davies looks at Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic American novel, a tale of sin, guilt and ...
"Easy reading is damn hard writing."
The American novelist and short-story writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804. Hawthorne grew up in seclusion with his widowed mother, his father, a sea captain, having died of yellow fever in 1808. Between 1821 and 1824 Hawthorne was educated at Bowdoin College in Maine, where he befriended Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Franklin Pierce, who became the fourteenth president of the United States.
After graduating in 1825 he returned to Salem and worked as a writer, producing short stories and various contributions to periodicals. His first novel, Fanshawe, based on his life at college, was not well received. However, it did lead to Hawthorne’s long and productive friendship with the publisher Samuel Goodrich. He returned to writing short fiction, much of which was published in Goodrich’s journal. In 1839 he accepted the post of surveyor of the Boston Custom House and during this time became involved with the Boston literary circle. This eventually led him to quit his job at the custom house and invest in a communal experiment at Brook Farm with some well known Transcendentalists. It was at this time that he married Sophia Peabody, also a Transcendentalist. He became disenchanted with community life, and in 1842 he and his wife moved into the former house of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it was here that Hawthorne returned to serious writing.
At the age of 45 he finally published his most important work, The Scarlet Letter, which won immediate critical acclaim. It was quickly followed, by The House of the Seven Gables (1851) and The Blithedale Romance (1852), which was based on his experience at Brook Farm. In 1853 Franklin Pierce became President and Hawthorne was appointed United States Consul in Liverpool, England. He remained in England for four years then moved to Italy for two years. His final complete novel, The Marble Faun: Or, The Romance of Monte Beni (1860) was published on his return to America. Hawthorne died on 19 May, 1864 whilst on a trip to the mountains with his old friend Franklin Pierce. His novel, The Dolliver Romance was unfinished at the time of Hawthorne’s death.
TITLES BY NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE