Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was an American novelist, most famous for his books The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, c. 1860-1865, Mathew Brady

Nathaniel Hawthorne, c. 1860-1865, Mathew Brady

Hawthorne Biography

HAWTHORNE, NATHANIEL (1804-1864). —Novelist, born at Salem, Massachusetts, son of a sea captain, who died in 1808, after which his mother led the life of a recluse. An accident when at play conduced to an early taste for reading, and from boyhood he cherished literary aspirations.

His education was completed at Bowdoin College, where he had Longfellow for a fellow-student. After graduating, he obtained a post in the Custom-House, which, however, he did not find congenial, and soon gave up, betaking himself to literature, his earliest efforts, besides a novel, Fanshawe, which had no success, being short tales and sketches, which, after appearing in periodicals, were collected and published as Twice-told Tales (1837), followed by a second series in 1842.

In 1841 he joined for a few months the socialistic community at Brook Farm, but soon tired of it, and in the next year he married and set up house in Concord in an old manse, formerly tenanted by Emerson, whence proceeded Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). It was followed by The Snow Image (1851), The Scarlet Letter (1850), his most powerful work, The House of the Seven Gables, and The Blithedale Romance (1852), besides his children’s books, The Wonder Book, and The Tanglewood Tales.

Such business as he had occupied himself with had been in connection with Custom-House appointments at different places; but in 1853 he received from his friend Franklin Pierce, on his election to the Presidency, the appointment of United States Consul at Liverpool, which he retained for four years, when, in consequence of a threatened failure of health, he went to Italy and began his story of The Marble Faun, published in England in 1860 under the title of The Transformation.

The last of his books published during his lifetime was Our Old Home (1863), notes on England and the English. He had returned to America in 1860, where, with failing health and powers, he passed his remaining four years. After his death there were published The Ancestral FootstepSeptimus FeltonDr. Grimshawe’s Secret, and The Dolliver Romance, all more or less fragmentary.

Most of Hawthorne’s work is pervaded by a strong element of mysticism, and a tendency to dwell in the border-land between the seen and the unseen. His style is characterised by a distinctive grace and charm, rich, varied, suggestive, and imaginative. On the whole he is undoubtedly the greatest imaginative writer yet produced by America.


The above biography is taken from A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, available here from Project Gutenberg and published in 1910.


Hawthorne resources on the Excellence in Literature site include:

The House of Seven Gables: 1940 movie trailer 

Hawthorne and His Mosses by Herman Melville 

Elegy for Hawthorne by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Last, but not least, Hawthorne has the honor of being mocked (along with other great writers) in “A Fable for Critics” by James Russell Lowell. 


When will you read Hawthorne’s writing in Excellence in Literature?

E3.4 Focus Text: The House of the Seven Gables

E3.4 Honors Text: The Scarlet Letter