Brief biographical notes
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts. From Salem the family moved to Maine, where he attended Bowdoin College (1821-24). His circle of friends at Bowdoin included the poet Longfellow and Franklin Pierce (who became the 14th president of the U.S).
In 1842 Hawthorne became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau; in Concord, the small group —which also included Margaret Fuller— founded the philosophical movement called Transcendentalism. Influenced by English and German Romanticism, the transcendentalists brought a new way of looking at society, criticizing conformity, as well as stimulating a more serious engagement with nature. They also experimented with communal living —Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden— all social experiments that eventually failed.
Becoming a writer
Hawthorne once referred to his workroom as a haunted chamber where “thousands and thousands of visions have appeared to me in it." Despondent, disappointed, and disillusioned because his Seven Tales of My Native Land was rejected several times by publishers, he burned the whole collection of stories. But he continued writing.
Fanshawe (1828) --Hawthorne’s first novel-- he managed to publish it at his own expense, and under a different name.
Given that his writing could not pay the bills, in 1846 he got a job as surveyor of the Port of Salem, where he toiled at a job that he hated; it was of no surprise to anyone that he got fired from it.
The Scarlet Letter
Hawthorne’ novel The Scarlet Letter was a resounding success. Set in Puritan 17th century New England, the novel painted a sinful, guilt-ridden puritan society much obsessed with punishment rather than redemption.
The protagonists Hester's and Dimmesdale —an earlier American version of Tolstoy’ Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky— defy the social conventions of an unforgiving society. To handle a theme that was taboo, Hawthorne created a new vocabulary together with a new code of symbols. The scarlet letter “A,” --for Adultery-- which Hester had to wear for life symbolized the physical transgression against society and God.
In addition to The Scarlet Letter, a few of Hawthorne's somber allegorical shorter tales are still popular. In particular, the following tales are much anthologized: "Young Goodman Brown ," The Minister's Black Veil," "The Birthmark," and "Rappaccini's Daughter."
To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.