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Course Hero. "The Scarlet Letter Study Guide." July 28, 2016. Accessed December 12, 2018.


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Author Biography

Learn more about Nathaniel Hawthorne's life and the personal experiences that inspired his novel The Scarlet Letter in Course Hero's video study guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne | Biography


Born July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts, Nathaniel Hathorne Jr. was the first of three children of Elizabeth Manning Hathorne and Nathaniel Hathorne, a sea captain who spent only seven months of a seven-year-long marriage at home in Salem. Thus, Nathaniel Jr. barely knew his father. He became intrigued by a genealogy that included Puritan settlers on both sides. When he learned that John Hathorne, a judge at the Salem Witch Trials of 1692–1693, was one of his forebears, the young man added the w to his surname to avoid an infamous association.

After college Hawthorne published anonymous stories in literary journals. In 1837 he collected and published them under his name as Twice-Told Tales. His writing career launched, Hawthorne proposed to Sophia Peabody. To save money for the marriage, Hawthorne worked briefly at the Boston Custom House. In 1842 he and Sophia began a long and happy marriage. His money worries, however, continued with the birth of two children and his continuing support of his mother and sisters.

In 1846 Hawthorne published another collection of short stories, Mosses from an Old Manse. The stories, though well received, did not bring in enough money, so he took a job at the custom house in Salem in 1846. He called upon this experience for the essay that opens The Scarlet Letter, which he wrote after losing that job, while he was in mourning over the death of his mother. The work was influenced by the Transcendentalist movement, an optimistic variation of Romanticism that included such writers and thinkers as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Transcendentalists embraced individualism, emotion over reason, and nature over science. Hawthorne's optimism was tempered by economic and political realities. His deep interest in the history of New England and the mysteries of the human soul earned him the label "Dark Romantic," along with Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe. He is best seen as a keen observer of human nature and one especially accepting of human flaws.

The Scarlet Letter made Hawthorne famous but never earned him much money. Hawthorne also published The House of the Seven Gables and The Snow Image and Other Twice-Told Tales (both 1851), the Blithedale Romance (1852), and The Marble Faun (1860). At Hawthorne's death in 1864, many of America's most celebrated writers gathered to praise him.

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