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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   



3. Gothic Undercurrents

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Henry Ward
Beecher
- Ambrose
Bierce
- Charles
Brockden Brown
- Emily Dickenson
- Charlotte
Perkins Gilman
- Nathaniel
Hawthorne
- Washington
Irving
- Herman
Melville
- Edgar
Allen Poe
- William
Gilmore Simms
- Suggested
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Authors: Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)

The Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692
[1549] T. H. Matteson, The Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692 (1855),
courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.

Nathaniel Hawthorne Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, a descendant of the first Puritan colonists, including one of the judges of the Salem witchcraft trials, an ancestry that would haunt him throughout his life and provide a tormented inspiration for much of his writing. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, where he had become friends with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Franklin Pierce, who later became president of the United States. Hawthorne had already begun writing at this point, acting as writer, editor, printer, and publisher of his own newspaper. In 1828 he published his first novel, Fanshawe, at his own expense. Soon thereafter, however, in a gesture of repudiation that he would later repeat with a collection of short stories, he tried to have all copies of the novel destroyed. In 1840 he joined the socialist-utopian commune of Brook Farm, but was unhappy with the drudgery of farm life and left after six months.

Hawthorne returned to Salem as Surveyor of the Custom House in 1846 and continued to write. His early endeavors were mostly short stories, which appeared anonymously in magazines and literary annuals. Only when he published these stories in collections, as in Twice-Told Tales (1837) and Mosses from an Old Manse (1846), did Hawthorne become a recognized literary force. In 1842 he married Sophia Peabody of Salem and began to focus on his new family, eventually moving them from Salem. His masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter, appeared in 1850 to international acclaim, with critics in Great Britain and the United States proclaiming Hawthorne America's finest romance writer. His philosophy of literature appears in that novel's introduction: "a neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairyland, where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other." His works explore the construction of reality through subjective perception, the past's inevitable and often malevolent hold on the present, and the agonizing ethical dilemmas encountered by individuals in society. Hawthorne frequently requires the reader to make a moral judgment, rather than passively receive a ready-made one. Hawthorne's other novels include The House of the Seven Gables (1851), The Blithedale Romance (1852), and The Marble Faun (1860).



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