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Nathaniel Hawthorne: Writing

Hawthorne's existence for the next ten years was almost hermetic. He lived in his mother's house, but rarely took meals with his family. He went on long walks alone. He rarely visited relatives or friends. All he did was read—in the course of nine years he checked out more than 700 books from the Salem library7—and write. His first novel, Fanshawe, was published in 1828 and virtually ignored by the public. Publishers rejected the collection of short stories that he shopped around to them. Though to outsiders it was a baffling period of self-isolation, to Hawthorne it was an important time of transformation. (He also transformed his name. Sometime around 1830, he added the "w" to Hathorne and went by "Hawthorne" from then on.) "If ever I should have a biographer," Hawthorne later said, "he ought to make great mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed."8

The investment in solitude paid off in 1837 with the publication of Twice Told Tales, a short story collection that established Hawthorne as a writer to watch. The stories were original, part of a literature that the 61-year-old nation could call its own. "As Americans, we feel proud of the book,"9 Edgar Allan Poe said in a review. Hawthorne credited his period of loneliness:

"If I had sooner made my escape into the world, I should have grown hard and rough, and been covered with earthly dust, and my heart might have become callous by rude encounters with the multitude. But living in solitude till the fullness of time was come, I still kept the dew of my youth and the freshness of my heart."10

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