Nathaniel Hawthorne was a famous American novelist and short story writer who was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804. His surname was originally Hathorne, but he added the “w” to keep from being associated with relatives, particularly John Hathorne, who was a judge during the Salem Witch Trails. He attended Bowdoin College with Franklin Pierce, who would become a U.S. President, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a famous poet.
Hawthorne released his first novel, Fanshawe, in 1828. It was based on his college experiences as an undergraduate, and was published anonymously. This book turned out to be a commercial failure, and Hawthorne burned the remaining unsold copies.
While serving as a waiter and gauger at the Boston Custom House in 1937, Hawthorne began writing short stories such as “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Minister’s Black Veil.” The stories were sold to publications and didn't garner much attention until gathered into a collection titled Twice-Told Tales.
In 1842, Hawthorne married his wife Sophia Peabody. The two would have three children: daughter Una, son Julian, and daughter Rose.
Hawthorne took the position of Surveyor for the District of Salem and Beverly and Inspector of the Revenue for the Port of Salem in the spring of 1846. However, he admitted that the position made writing difficult. Hawthorne lost the position after the presidential election of 1848.
Returning to writing, Hawthorne would pen what became one of his most famous novels, The Scarlet Letter, in 1850. The Scarlet Letter was one of the first books mass-produced in America. It sold 2,500 copies within 10 days and went on to become a best seller.
Hawthorne followed up The Scarlet Letter with The House of the Seven Gables in 1851 and The Blithedale Romance in 1852. In 1851, he also finished up A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys, a collection of short stories he had been working on since 1846. He would write a sequel to A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys entitled Tanglewood Tales for Boys and Girls in 1853.
After moving to Lenox, Massachusetts in 1850, Hawthorne became friends with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. and Herman Melville. Melville would dedicate Moby Dick to Hawthorne, writing, “In token of my admiration for his genius, this book is inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne.”
Hawthorne wrote a biography about his college friend, Franklin Pierce, in 1852, but the biography drew some criticism as Hawthorne failed to mention Pierce’s drinking and the fact that he thought slavery would simply “vanish.” In 1853, Hawthorne was given the Foreign Service position of consul in Liverpool. He would hold the position until 1857.
In 1860, Hawthorne would publish his first new book in seven years—The Marble Faun. However, Hawthorne’s health was failing and he died in his sleep on May 19, 1864.
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