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              Nathaniel Hawthorne

              A picture of the author Nathaniel Hawthorne

              Nathaniel Hawthorne, born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts was an American short story writer and romance novelist who experimented with a broad range of styles and genres. He is best known for his short stories and two widely read novels: The Scarlet Letter (mid-March 1850) and The House of Seven Gables (1851). Along with Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe much of Hawthorne's work belongs to the sub-genre of Dark Romanticism, distinguished by an emphasis on human fallibility that gives rise to lapses in judgement that allow even good men and women to drift toward sin and self-destruction. Dark Romantics tends to draw attention to the unintended consequences and complications that arise from well-intended efforts at social reform. Melville dedicated his epic novel, Moby-Dick to Hawthorne: "In token of my admiration for his genius." Hawthorne's lesser-known poems exemplify Dark Romanticism; some of his darkest works, including his ghost stories and tales involving the supernatural, fall within the genre of Gothic Literature.

              Young Hawthorne was a contemporary of fellow Transcendalists: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott, Hawthorne was part of this prominent circle of Massachusetts writers and philosophers. The Transcendentalists believed in the "inherent goodness of both people and nature." I would encourage you to think of them as intellectual hippies of the early 19th century (the movement sprang forth in the 1820s and 1830s). Hawthorne was a founding member of Brook Farm, a utopian experiment in communal living -- though he is not portrayed as a deep believer in its ideals. As Hawthorne matured, he drifted further and further from some of the transcendental principles. In fact, his later writing, produced after greater experience in the world, demonstrated an increasing disdain for the Transcendental Movement. He notably fictionalized the experiences of Brook Farm in his satirical novel The Blithedale Romance (1852).

              Nathaniel Hawthorne quoteI think it's important to mark Hawthorne's migration from a young Transcendental idealist to a Dark Romantic writer. At one level it's a remarkable journey because the older man comes to embrace the opposite inclinations of his youth; that rather then being inherently good, people were deeply fallible, prone to lapses in judgement and they difted easily to sin. Furthermore, some of their greatest sins were committed under the umbrella of good intentions. On another level, the journey is common-place, as almost all individuals discover that the journey of life tempers their youthful idealism. But there is also a personal history the weighed heavily on Hawthorne. He had two stern forefathers in his patrilineal heritage, his great-great-great grandfather and his great-great-grandfather John Hathorne. So he knew well that men could, cloaked in the countenance of goodness and piety, commit great sin. Here is Hawthorne describing them both (starting with the great-great-great grandfather):

              He was a soldier, legislator, judge; he was a ruler in the Church; he had all the Puritanical traits, both good and evil. He was likewise a bitter persecutor; as witness the Quakers, who have remembered him in their histories, and relate an incident of his hard severity towards a woman of their sect, which will last longer, it is to be feared, than any record of his better deeds, although these were many. His son, too, inherited the persecuting spirit, and made himself so conspicuous in the martyrdom of the witches, that their blood may fairly be said to have left a stain upon him. So deep a stain, indeed, that his dry old bones, in the Charter Street burial-ground, must still retain it, if they have not crumbled utterly to dust!
              Hawthorne was acutely aware of his ancestors' sins, so ashamed that he was actually born "Hathorne" and added the "w" to hide his true lineage.

              With knowledge of these biographical details, the reader can easily see the influence of his ancestors not only rise up in his drift into Dark Romanticism, but also in his writing, which was often set in colonial New England and heavily weighted with the moral complexity of his Puritan background (and perhaps the deeds of his ancestors in those communities). Which brings us to his most acclaimed work. The Scarlet Letter, a work rife with moral complexity.

              The Scarlet Letter was one of the first mass-produced novels in America and became an instant best seller, selling over 2,500 copies in the first two weeks. It has been praised for its sentimentality and moral purity by the likes of D. H. Lawrence, who said that there could be no more perfect work of the American imagination.Though Edgar Allan Poe -- a fellow author in the Dark Romantic Movement and influential literary critic -- wrote negative reviews of Hawthorne's stories. Poe did not admire stories that were allegorical and moral in nature so his criticism was in form. Though even he begrudgingly acknowledged that Hawthorne's style "is like purity itself." Hawthorne's highest regarded short stories include My Kinsman, Major Molineaux (1832), Young Goodman Brown (1835), Feathertop (1852), and The Minister's Black Veil.

              Now I am going to break from my biographical narrative to add a personal note. After a lifetime of reading, Nathaniel Hawthorne has emerged as one of my absolute favorite authors of all time. If you are not having fun while reading Hawthorne you are doing it wrong! For instance, My Kinsman, Major Molineaux is a comic short story and should be enjoyed as such (it does have a "tragic" ending). It's the story of a young "hayseed" on his first visit to the "big city" and he suffers the embarrassments one would expect and few extras thrown in for good measure. It could inspire a Monty Python skit. I think there is a secret to understanding and appreciating Hawthorne's body of work. And I will share that with you. But be warned; he is not a cheap date! You will have to work hard before you can truly love this writer.

              The price of admission is that one must read and study over the introductory chapter to The Scarlet Letter, The Custom-House. Then read the Preface to the Second Edition and then -- sorry -- read The Custom-House again. As much as it will not feel like it at the time, if you are a high school student, and your English teacher has asked you to specifically read The Custom-House, it's because he or she loves you and cares about your education (which as Twain famously pointed out, should not be confused with your schooling). You will know that you truly understand those two introductory chapters when you realize the Nathaniel Hawthorne was a mid-1850s Bad Ass who explicitly, purposely, and repeatedly "stuck it to the man", even after, heck especially after they asked him to stop! I also do not think you can properly understand The Scarlet Letter without understanding The Custom-House (and also marking the sins of Hawthorne's forefathers). I assure you, the effort is worth the reward. [And I do offer belated apologies to my sophomore English teacher for my essay entitled, "Why I Hate English Class," which I tendered like a smart-aleck after my first bout with The Custom-House way back in 1981.]

              For the record, Hawthorne died in his sleep in 1864 during a tour of the White Mountains in Plymouth, New Hampshire. He was educated at one of my favorite small universities, Bowdoin College, where he was a student from 1821-1824.

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              Short Stories

              An Old Woman's Tale
              A Rill from the Town-Pump
              Benjamin Franklin
              Chippings with a Chisel
              Circe's Palace
              David Swan
              Dr. Heidegger's Experiment
              Drowne's Wooden Image
              Edward Fane's Rosebud
              Egotism; or, The Bosom Serpent
              Endicott and the Red Cross
              Ethan Brand
              Fancy's Show-Box
              Fire Worship
              Footprints on the Seashore
              Graves and Goblins
              How Theseus Slays the Minotaur
              John Inglefield's Thanksgiving
              Legends of the Province House: I. Howe's Masquerade
              Legends of the Province House: II. Edward Randolph's Portrait
              Legends of the Province House: III. Lady Eleanore's Mantle
              Legends of the Province House: IV. Old Esther Dudley
              Little Annie's Ramble
              Monsieur du Miroir
              Mosses from an Old Manse
              Mr. Higginbotham's Catastrophe
              Mrs. Bullfrog
              My Kinsman, Major Molineux
              Oliver Cromwell
              Passages from a Relinquished Work
              Pegasus, The Winged Horse
              Peter Goldthwaite's Treasure
              Rappaccini's Daughter
              Roger Malvin's Burial
              Sights from a Steeple
              Sir Isaac Newton
              Sketches from Memory
              Sunday At Home
              The Ambitious Guest
              The Antique Ring
              The Artist of the Beautiful
              The Birthmark
              The Boston Massacre
              The Canterbury Pilgrims
              The Celestial Railroad
              The Chimaera
              The Christmas Banquet
              The Devil in Manuscript
              The Dragon's Teeth
              The Gentle Boy
              The Ghost of Dr. Harris
              The Golden Fleece
              The Golden Touch
              The Gorgon's Head
              The Gray Champion
              The Great Carbuncle
              The Great Stone Face
              The Hall of Fantasy
              The Haunted Mind
              The Hollow of the Three Hills
              The Intelligence Office
              The Lilly's Quest
              The Maypole of Merry Mount
              The Minister's Black Veil
              The Minotaur
              The New Adam and Eve
              The Old Apple-Dealer
              The Paradise of Children
              The Pomegranate Seeds
              The Procession of Life
              The Prophetic Pictures
              The Pygmies
              The Seven Vagabonds
              The Shaker Bridal
              The Sister-Years
              The Snow Image: A Childish Miracle
              The Threefold Destiny
              The Three Golden Apples
              The Toll-Gatherer's Day
              The Village Uncle
              The Vision of the Fountain
              The Wayside. Introductory.
              The Wedding Knell
              The White Old Maid
              The Wives of the Dead
              Young Goodman Brown



              Anton Chekhov
              Nathaniel Hawthorne
              Susan Glaspell
              Mark Twain
              Edgar Allan Poe
              Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
              Herman Melville
              Stephen Leacock
              Kate Chopin
              Bj?rnstjerne Bj?rnson