Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne Introduction

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Introduction

The writer Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on the Fourth of July in 1804 and went on from there to establish himself as one of the great contributors to American literature. Like Forrest Gump, he seemed all his life to be surrounded by history. He was descended from a line of notorious Puritans, including a judge at the Salem witch trials. His college pals included poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and future president Franklin Pierce. Henry David Thoreau planted Hawthorne a vegetable garden as a wedding present. Edgar Allan Poe wrote rave reviews of his books. The mourners at his funeral in 1860 included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Hawthorne spent most of his life in or around the Massachusetts towns of Salem and Concord, both of which played prominent roles in American history.

Hawthorne's books and stories drew heavily from America's Puritan history. His stories were pointed allegories that took aim at hypocrisy, sin, and corruption. Hawthorne's most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, practically ran through a checklist of the Seven Deadly Sins. His was not a rosy view of human nature. Perhaps because of this, Hawthorne kept mostly to himself. He was painfully shy and rarely invited anyone to the home he shared with his wife and three children. A friend of his said at the time, "I love Hawthorne, I admire him; but I do not know him. He lives in a mysterious world of thought and imagination which he never permits me to enter." Generations of readers since agree that he was right.

Nathaniel Hawthorne Trivia

Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne enjoyed a very happy marriage. They also enjoyed (very un-Puritanically) a satisfying sex life. "The truly married alone can know what a wondrous instrument [sex] is for the purposes of the heart," Sophia Hawthorne once said. Hubba hubba.

Henry David Thoreau planted a vegetable garden for newlyweds Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne as a wedding present.

Herman Melville was writing a novel and suffering from serious writer's block when he read Hawthorne's short story collection Mosses From an Old Manse. He was inspired, and eventually dedicated his finished novel, Moby Dick, to Hawthorne.

As a child Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote stories in a homemade "invisible ink" of skim milk.

As a student at Bowdoin College, Hawthorne bet fellow student Jonathan Cilley a case of Madeira wine that he (Hawthorne) would still be single twelve years later. (He won the bet. Hawthorne married Sophia Peabody five days after his 38th birthday.)

Hawthorne burned his first short story collection, Seven Tales of My Native Land, after publishers rejected it.

Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne were so poor in the early days of their marriage in Concord, Massachusetts that they sold apples, potatoes, and grass before Nathaniel finally got a job at the customs house in 1846.

Nathaniel Hawthorne Resources


Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850)
Sex, revenge, hypocrisy—no wonder Hawthorne's masterpiece sold like hotcakes from the moment it was published. Hawthorne's tale of Puritan hypocrisy and morality is one of the best American novels ever written.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables (1851)
Hawthorne spent a lot of time while growing up at the Salem home of his cousin Susannah Ingersoll. Her sprawling mansion was the inspiration for the titular home of this novel. The House of the Seven Gables is a classic of dark Romanticism.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Twice Told Tales (1837)
Hawthorne's first published short story collection established him as a writer to watch. The stories had all been published previously in small journals (hence the name). When they appeared together, it was clear that their author was a master of fiction.

Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life (2003)
Hawthorne had a reputation for being aloof, standoffish, and painfully shy. Wineapple's biography goes behind the stereotypes about Hawthorne's personality to reveal intimate moments in the writer's life.

Henry James, Hawthorne (1879)
The writer Henry James wrote this biographical sketch of Hawthorne fifteen years after the writer's death. It remains one of the best books around about Hawthorne. James offers both critiques of the writer and a broader look at American culture.

Susan Cheever, American Bloomsbury (2005)
Though Hawthorne later came to mock the earnestness of the American Transcendentalists in works like The Blithedale Romance, he was closely associated with many of the movement's leaders. Cheever's book looks at the movement that sprung out of Concord and involved many of Hawthorne's friends, such as Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Hester Prynne at Death
Composer Stephen Paulus wrote this chamber music opera based on Hawthorne's character. It premiered in 2004 at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

The Scarlet Letter—The Musical
Since its premiere in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2001, this musical -based on Hawthorne's novel - has traveled the globe. It's supposed to be pretty good, even if it sometimes strays from its roots (apparently, there's some Puritan rapping).

Dr. Heidegger's Fountain of Youth
Composer Jack Beeson wrote an opera based on Hawthorne's short story entitled "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment." The story is about a doctor who claims to have obtained waters drawn from the fountain of youth.

The House of the Seven Gables
Hawthorne's dark thriller has also been turned into an opera, this time by composer Scott Eyerly. This performance is by the Manhattan School of Music Opera Orchestra.


Handsome Hawthorne
A portrait of the writer, who was noted in his youth for his good looks.

Older Hawthorne
The writer in his "distinguished" years.

Sophia Peabody Hawthorne
Hawthorne's wife and close companion.

The Bet
The original bet between Hawthorne and Bowdoin classmate Jonathan Cilley that Hawthorne would not be married in twelve years. He won a cask of Madeira wine.

The house where Hawthorne (then Hathorne) was born in Salem, Massachusetts.

An original edition of Hawthorne's first novel.

The House of the Seven Gables
The Salem home of his cousin Susannah Ingersoll inspired Hawthorne's novel of the same name.

The Old Manse
The home that Nathaniel and Sophia Peabody rented as newlyweds.

The Hawthorne family home in Concord, Mass., previously owned by the Alcott family.

Salem Custom House
Hawthorne's old office.

Movies & TV

The Scarlet Letter (1995)
This movie is "freely based" on the novel, which means that if you attempt to watch this instead of reading the book, you're screwed. Director Roland Joffe took so many liberties with Hawthorne's original plot that he considered changing the title of the film to "A Scarlet Letter." Starring Demi Moore's bosoms.

Twice Told Tales (1963)
Baritone-voiced horror star Vincent Price turned Hawthorne's book into a campy horror flick. The trailer promises "a spell of horror beyond belief" from "that master storyteller of the macabre, Nathaniel Hawthorne." The 1960s-era "special effects" are hilariously awful.

Young Goodman Brown (1993)
The verdict on this overwrought film was that, except for the stuffy language, the movie has little in common with the Hawthorne short story it is allegedly based on. Watch only if you have patience for lots of shots of cloaked people running through the woods.

The House of the Seven Gables (1940)
An ancient house! A murder secret! A hidden treasure! This is what the tagline promises for this version of Hawthorne's Gothic classic. It stars a young Vincent Price as Clifford Pyncheon.

The Scarecrow (2000)
There are other film versions of Hawthorne's story about a scarecrow who comes to life when he puts a feather in his cap, but we're going to suggest this animated one. It's based on Hawthorne's story "Feathertop," which, of course, is a heavy moral allegory. Obviously.

Moby Dick (1956)
This adaptation of the novel that Herman Melville dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne is a classic. Directed by John Huston, screenplay by Ray Bradbury, Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab… it's a great ride.


The Spectator
In 1820, when he was sixteen years old, Hawthorne wrote a newspaper called The Spectator and delivered it to friends and family. The Phillips Library has archived all seven editions of The Spectator online in an interactive feature. Hawthorne's handwritten paper offered news, poetry, commentary and even advertisements.

The House of the Seven Gables
The House of the Seven Gables is a historic site in Salem, Massachusetts containing several of the homes in which Nathaniel Hawthorne actually lived or wrote (some of the houses, including Hawthorne's birthplace, were moved here from their original locations). Their website has information about Hawthorne's life and times.

Hawthorne in Salem
This site - funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities - is probably the most comprehensive Hawthorne site on the web. It contains helpful biographical information, as well as an impressive selection of primary documents. You can see documents such as Hawthorne's college-era bet with a friend that he'd stay single for at least twelve more years.

The Literature Network
This site contains biographical information about Hawthorne, as well as an extensive selection of Hawthorne e-texts.

Nathaniel Hawthorne—Eldritch Press
This unique site swept the Internet for the best Hawthorne miscellany. There are some great finds in here, like Hawthorne and Herman Melville's letters to each other, nineteenth century articles about Hawthorne, journal entries, and other hard-to-find texts.

Video & Audio

Hester and Arthur—A Love Story
A music video about the lovers using clips from the 2005 version of The Scarlet Letter.

The Scarlet Letter
A "trailer" for The Scarlet Letter using clips from other movies.

Vincent Price Tours the House of the Seven Gables
EVERYTHING is better when Vincent Price tells it.

Dr. Heidegger's Experiment—With Legos
Hawthorne's short story, re-enacted with Legos.

Twice Told Tales
The trailer of the campy 1963 horror movie based on Hawthorne's book.

Young Goodman Brown
A reading of Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown." For 41 minutes and 24 seconds.

Hawthorne Statue
A short video about Nathaniel Hawthorne-related locations in Salem, Massachusetts.

Primary Sources

The Scarlet Letter
Text of the novel.

Scarlet Letter Review
An 1886 essay in The Atlantic on the book by Hawthorne's son Julian.

Marble Faun Review
An 1860 review of The Marble Faun by Hawthorne's friend James Russell Lowell.

Melville's Letters to Hawthorne
Correspondence between the two writers and friends.

Chiefly About War Matters, by a Peaceable Man
Hawthorne's 1862 essay in The Atlantic Monthly.

Custom House Notebooks
Hawthorne's diary from his days at the Boston Custom House.

English Notebooks
Passages of Hawthorne's diary during his stay in England.

The Solitude of Nathaniel Hawthorne
A 1901 essay on Hawthorne in The Atlantic Monthly.

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