- Great-great-grandfather William Hathorne was a Puritan who came to
America with John Winthrop in 1630
- Ancestor John Hathorne was a magistrate during the Salem witch trials.
- Salem, Massachusetts
- Sebago Lake, Massachusetts (now Maine)
- Bowdoin College
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Brook Farm
- Liverpool, England
- Concord, Massachusetts
- Employee in Custom House
- Surveyor for Port of Boston
- 1804: born in Salem, Massachusetts
- 1808: Hawthorne's father dies of yellow fever, and Hawthorne's mother
begins to mourn him in seclusion.
- 1821-1825: attends Bowdoin College with Franklin Pierce and Henry Wadsworth
- 1825: returns to Salem
- 1828: Fanshawe (published anonymously at his own expense)
- 1836: edits American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge
- 1837: Twice-Told Tales
- 1837: compiles Peter Parley's Universal History
- 1839-1840: works for Boston Custom House
- 1841: Grandfather's Chair
- 1841: Famous Old People
- 1841: Liberty Tree
- 1841: leaves Custom House and joins Brook Farm for economic reasons;
he leaves after eight months
- 1842: marries Sophia Peabody
- 1842: Twice-Told Tales (enlarged)
- 1842: Biographical Stories for Children
- 1846: Mosses from an Old Manse
- 1846: Hawthorne becomes surveyor for the Port of Salem, where he earns
$1,200 a year. Of this position, he writes: "It is no great affair
but suits me well enough, as ensuring me a comfortable living, with a little
margin for luxuries, and occupying only a moderate portion of time--so
that I shall have as much freedom for literary employment as hitherto"
- 1849: leaves Port of Salem
- 1850: The Scarlet Letter
- 1851: The House of the Seven Gables
- 1851: The Snow -Image and Other Twice-Told Tales
- 1852: The Blithedale Romance
- 1852: A Wonder Book
- 1852: campaign biography of Franklin Pierce
- 1853: Tanglewood Tales
- 1853-1857: works as consul in Liverpool, England
- 1858: moves to Italy
- 1860: returns to Concord
- 1860: The Marble Faun
- 1863: Our Old Home
- 1864: dies
- 1872: Septimius Felton (unfinished)
- 1876: The Dolliver Romance (unfinished)
- 1883: Dr. Grimshawe's Secret (unfinished)
- 1883: The Ancestral Footstep (unfinished)
Issues and themes
Like his contemporary Herman Melville, whom he knew, Nathaniel Hawthorne
wrote some of the best-known and most respected fiction in American literature.
A short-story writer who turned to novels in the middle of his career, Hawthorne
produced classic examples in each form, including the short stories "Young
Goodman Brown" and "Rappaccini's Daughter" and the novels
The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.
Hawthorne shares other qualities with Melville, as well as Edgar Allan
Poe. All three took a special interest in human psychology. The later
American novelist Henry James, who also explored the mind in his fiction,
wrote: "The fine thing in Hawthorne is that he cared for the deeper
psychology, and that, in his way, he tried to become familiar with it"
(140). Of particular interest to Hawthorne was the nature of evil.
Indeed, in an essay called "Hawthorne and His Mosses," Melville
betrayed his own fascination with the darkness in colleague's work, writing
that half of Hawthorne is "shrouded in a blackness, ten times black"
(678). As The Scarlet Letter, "Young Goodman Brown," "The
Minister's Black Veil," and other works demonstrate, Hawthorne's studies
of evil often coincide with his studies of religion, particularly Puritanism,
which his ancestors in Salem practiced in the 17th century. Like his two
famous contemporaries, Hawthorne also made extensive use of symbols.
His scarlet letter ranks alongside Melville's white whale and Poe's pit
and pendulum, and symbols play important roles in all of his important short
stories, including "The Birthmark," "The Artist of the Beautiful,"
and "My Kinsman, Major Molineux." Furthermore, Hawthorne's works
often hint of the supernatural, the unreal, or the uncommon. Hawthorne might
have spoken for both Melville and Poe when he wrote in his introduction
to The House of the Seven Gables that the "romance,"
a word he used to contrast his form of long fiction from the novel, may
"present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the
writer's own choosing or creation." The romance writer, he explains,
may "mingle the Marvellous" in his work. Hawthorne sometimes used
the metaphor of everyday objects seen in moonlight to explain the material
of the romance. In the introduction to The Scarlet Letter, he writes
that the atmosphere of a parlor at night suggested to him the world of romance--a
region between reality and imagination. The ordinary objects he sees there
"are so spiritualized by the unusual light, that they seem to lose
their actual substance, and become things of intellect." Finally, Hawthorne,
Melville, and Poe all reacted against the major literary and philosophical
movement of the day, Transcendentalism. Hawthorne, for example, tried to
live at Brook Farm, a community experiment begun by some Transcendentalists,
but was repelled by what he perceived as hypocrisy and excessive idealism--flaws
he chronicled in his roman á clef about the experience, The Blithedale
One of Hawthorne's distinctive concerns is that of separating head from
heart, intellect from soul. In his notebooks, he wrote that an unpardonable
sin is "a want of love and reverence for the Human Soul; in consequence
of which, the investigator pried into its dark depths, not with a hope or
purpose of making it better, but from a cold philosophical curiosity,--content
that it should be wicked in whatever kind or degree, and only desiring to
study it out. Would not this, in other words, be the separation of the intellect
from the heart." Hawthorne explored these ideas extensively in the
short story "Ethan Brand," and they also help to shape The
Scarlet Letter, "The Artist of the Beautiful," and "Rappaccini's
"My Kinsman, Major Molineux"
- Publication: 1832 in The Token
- What does Robin hope to gain from his kinsman? Why? How do the events
of the story force him to reconsider his plan?
- How does Robin change over the course of the story? Of what significance
is his age? Look up the terms "bildungsroman" and "story
of initiation" in one or more literary reference
works. Citing details from the story, argue that one of these terms
does or does not apply to "My Kinsman, Major Molineux."
- What larger implications does the story have? Consider the citizens'
behavior toward Major Molineux and the gentleman's advice to Robin at the
end of the story.
- Compare Robin with some of the people he meets in the town.
- Hawthorne is known for his use of symbolism. What symbols can you identify
in this story, and what do they suggest? Why do you suppose Hawthorne used
- Describing Robin as he waits for his kinsman to pass, Hawthorne writes:
"And first he threw his eyes along the street; it was of more respectable
appearance than most of those into which he had wandered, and the moon,
'creating, like the imaginative power, a beautiful strangeness in familiar
objects,' gave something of romance to a scene, that might not have possessed
it in the light of day" (558). What does Hawthorne mean by "romance"?
In what ways does this story fit his definition of a "romance"?
What do the romantic elements add to the story's meaning or effect?
- Publication: 1844 in The Democratic Review
- Identify the places where Hawthorne alludes to Eden. What purposes
do these allusions serve?
- How does Hawthorne characterize Doctor Rappaccini? What does this characterization
suggest about Hawthorne's attitude toward science?
- Look up "femme fatale" in a dictionary or A Handbook to
Literature. What characteristics of the femme fatale do you see in
- Baglioni tells Giovanni that Rappaccini is "making a study"
of him (615). What does he mean? Do you think Baglioni is right? If so,
what is Rappaccini's motivation?
- Analyze Baglioni's behavior at the end of the story.
- "Nathaniel Hawthorne." Norton Anthology of American Literature.
Shorter Fourth Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995. 547-550.
- Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "My Kinsman, Major Molineux." Norton
Anthology of American Literature. Shorter Fourth Edition. New York:
W.W. Norton, 1995. 551-563.
© Mark Canada, 1997
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