Explain the biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne?
Nathaniel Hawthorne is considered one of the great masters of American fiction. His novels and stories are explore complex moral and spiritual conflicts that are still relevant for us today. His masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter, is often considered the first American psychological novel. Apart from his novels, Hawthorne is also celebrated as a short-story writer. He helped to establish the American short story as a significant art form with his haunting tales of human loneliness, frustration, hypocrisy, and frailty.
Descended from a prominent Puritan family, Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804. Many of his stories and novels reflect this Puritan heritage. One of his ancestors, Judge Hathorne, presided over the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Throughout his life, Hawthorne felt very conflicted about his Puritan heritage.
In 1821, Hawthorne studied with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Franklin Pierce at Bowdoin College. The friendship he formed with Franklin Pierce, who would go on to become President of the US, would last his whole life. In 1828, he published Fanshawe, a college romance. Hawthorne was so embarrassed about this early novel that he tried to buy all the copies back so he could destroy them. In 1835 he published the classic story Young Goodman Brown, and in 1837 he published a book of stories, Twice-Told Tales. Unfortunately, he was unable to support himself through his writing, so he was forced to take a job at the Boston customhouse.
The Scarlet Letter might never had been written if it were not for party politics. Hawthorne was a member of the Democratic Party; the opposition party was called he Whigs. In the 19th century, many jobs were awarded by political patronage. This was called the spoils system. This meant that if you were a member of the party in power, you were eligible for an appointed government job; if you were a member of the opposition party, you got fired when the new party took over. These government jobs were highly sought after and often very easy; Hawthorne wrote in the Customhouse that the only thing these government employees had to worry about was the periodical terror of a Presidential election.
Hawthorne was appointed to work in the customhouse in Boston. In 1841, Hawthorne lost his job when the Whigs gained power. When the Democrats returned to power in 1846, Hawthorne was appointed Surveyor of the Port of Boston. In 1849, the Whigs came back to power, so Hawthorne was fired from his job. Fortunately, his wife, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, had secretly saved money for Hawthorne to live on while he wrote The Scarlet Letter. This period of unemployment was very productive for Hawthorne; from 1849 to 1852, Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter, House of the Seven Gables, and The Blithedale Romance.
Even while writing great literature, Hawthorne was not above a little political hackwork. He wrote his old college friend Franklin Pierce's campaign biography. When Democrat Pierce was elected President of the US in 1852, he rewarded Hawthorne by appointing him the American Consul in Liverpool, England. While living in England, Hawthorne wrote Our Old Home(1863), and a visit to Italy resulted in The Marble Faun(1860). He worked on several more novels that were never finished. He died during a trip to the White Mountains with Franklin Pierce.
Hawthorne was in touch with the leading intellectuals of his day. He knew the poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, the father of Transcendentalism in the US. The poet and college buddy Henry Wadsworth Longfellow read his poetry to Hawthorne. He talked with Henry David Thoreau about living in the woods at Walden. Herman Melville, the author of Moby-Dick, was a friend and neighbor of Hawthorne's. He also spent seven months living on the utopian commune of Brook Farm, but he didn't share the optimism and idealism of the transcendentalist participants. Many of these thinkers were moving away from the traditional, harsh, Puritan view of human nature. They believed in the basic goodness of human nature, that humans could morally perfect themselves. In many of Hawthorne's works, including The Scarlet Letter, you can see the conflict between an optimistic view of human nature and the more traditional, darker, pessimistic Puritan view.