Old Ticonderoga, a Picture of the Past - Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Nathaniel Hawthorne

"Words -- so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them," Nathaniel Hawthorne once reflected. Hawthorne's own words indeed had an undeniable power. Author of The Scarlet Letter and originator of the American short story, Hawthorne left an indelible impression on literature that would influence his fellow writers into the next century.

Biography Nathaniel Hathorne, Jr., was born into an established New England puritan family on Independence Day, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts. After the sudden death of his father, he and his mother and sisters moved in with his mother's family in Salem. Nathaniel's early education was informal; he was home-schooled by tutors until he enrolled in Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Uninterested in conventional professions such as law, medicine, or the ministry, Nathaniel chose instead to rely "for support upon my pen." After graduation, he returned to his hometown, wrote short stories and sketches, and chanced the spelling of his surname to "Hawthorne." Hawthorne's coterie consisted of transcendentalist thinkers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Although he did not subscribe entirely to the group's philosophy, he lived for six months at Brook Farm, a cooperative living community the transcendentalists established in West Roxbury, Massachusetts.

On July 9, 1942, Hawthorne married a follower of Emerson, Sophia Peabody, with whom he had a daughter, Una, and a son, Julian. The couple purchased a mansion in Concord, Massachusetts, that previously had been occupied by author Louisa May Alcott. Frequently in financial difficulty, Hawthorne worked at the custom houses in Salem and Boston to support his family and his writing. His peaceful life was interrupted when his college friend, Franklin Pierce, now president of the United States, appointed him U.S. consul at Liverpool, England, where he served for four years.

The publication of The Scarlet Letter in 1850 changed the way society viewed Puritanism. Considered his masterpiece, the novel focuses on Hawthorne's recurrent themes of sin, guilt, and punishment. Some critics have attributed his sense of guilt to his ancestors' connection with the persecution of Quakers in seventeenth-century New England and their prominent role in the Salem witchcraft trials in the 1690s.

On May 19, 1864, Hawthorne died in Plymouth, New Hampshire, leaving behind several unfinished novels that were published posthumously. He is buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts.

Author biography from the Barnes


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