Contemporary Portraits of Hawthorne,
1808 Hawthorne's father, a sea captain, dies of yellow fever in Suriname (Northern coast of South America)
1808-1820s Hawthorne lives in Salem MA with mother and sister in genteel poverty, assisted by family connections
1825 Hawthorne graduates from Bowdoin College in Maine; a classmate was future American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), and his roommate was future U.S. President Franklin Pierce (1804-69; U.S. President 1853-57)
1830s Hawthorne publishes his first short stories in magazines; these stories were later collected as Twice-Told Tales (1837)
1839-40 Hawthorne works as officer in the U.S. Customs House in Boston
1841 Hawthorne lives and works briefly at Brook Farm, a Transcendentalist commune in East Roxbury, MA (near Boston).
1842 Hawthorne marries Sophia Peabody of another old Puritan family that was active in publishing and social movements including Transcendentalism; the Hawthorne family (eventually 3 children) lived in Salem, Concord, and Lenox, Massachusetts
1846-48 Hawthorne employed as "Surveyor for the District of Salem and Beverly and Inspector of the Revenue for the Port of Salem"
1850-52 Hawthorne publishes three novels in attempt to support his growing family:
(Especially The Scarlet Letter earned great critical acclaim, but none of the novels sold well enough to support his family. Hawthorne also published short stories in magazines and collections as well as children's literature.)
1852 Hawthorne writes campaign biography for old college roommate Franklin Pierce, who is elected U.S. President (1853-57)
1853 Hawthorne is appointed U.S. Consul to Liverpool, England (a diplomatic post ranking just under "Ambassador"); the Hawthorne family travels through Europe, esp. Italy
1860 Hawthorne family returns to Concord, MA
1860 Hawthorne publishes final novel, The Marble Faun, depicting the American community in Rome
1861 Hawthorne visits Washington, DC; meets Abraham Lincoln. (description of Abraham Lincoln from Chiefly of War-Matters, 1862)
1864 Hawthorne dies; manuscripts of several novels left incomplete at death
Hawthorne as classic and / or popular author
Hawthorne was never an especially popular writer with big sales. He worked so long on this fiction as to limit his productivity (which popular artists have to maintain), and his fiction's serious mood and moral complexity could not appeal to a wide audience that expected sensational action and push-button sentimentality. His writings were widely reviewed, though, and in 1850 The Scarlet Letter became a minor sensation among intelligentsia and literati as an American novel whose seriousness of subject and quality of style ranked with the best of European authors. He maintained his publishing career as a "prestige author" whose profile attracted other good work to his publisher (in this case, his friend William Ticknor).
Hawthorne's greatest claim to a popular style is his use of the gothic, which always appeals reflexively to a wide audience. During the early-60s parade of Poe-inspired movies, a Hollywood film appeared titled Twice-Told Tales and featuring Vincent Price, who acted in many Poe movies:
Hawthorne's use of the gothic is less sensational than Poe's, more subtle and delicate—no blood! His most evident gothic characteristics—past sin and its consequences, light and dark as good and evil—are used not for sensation but to represent and explore complex moral and psychological states of mind and society.
Instead of being a popular writer, Hawthorne was recognized as a classic author from the start and has thus endured for generations of American students, who sometimes find in Hawthorne a classic writer whose techniques and moral complexity are interesting and compelling to the extent that they gain confidence in exploring other classic authors.
Hawthorne's writings fulfill several qualities often associated with classic rather than popular authors:
delicacy & discernment of style: Hawthorne worked hard and long on his writings. Every word, image, or symbol is coordinated with others.
morality instead of moralism: instead of starkly dividing good and bad (as moralism does), Hawthorne tragically and ironically demonstrates how the painful intertwining of right and wrong in individual and social lives defines humanity.
In the greatest authors, these two aspects of style—subject matter and technique—parallel, combine, or fuse. Thus, for instance, Hawthorne's content of mixed right and wrong takes form in his visual imagery of blended dark & light and shifting viewpoints or uncertain perceptions.
Hawthorne as gothic
Hawthorne's other characteristic style-elements
transience, impermanence of truth, beauty--appears always "on the wing" (cf. Emily Dickinson, Melville, Wallace Stevens
Acknowledgement of human sinfulness, frailty, failure > human unity, fellowship; humility as unifying force (Recognizable in Christianity and other world religions)
Vanity, pride, certainty as divisive, arrogant, controlling of others rather than sharing with others
Gender: vain, delusionary, obstinate men; sensible, flexible women who resist categories, fantasies
No simple, final conclusion or "moral" to dilemmas; ambiguity of moral judgments as shades of gray
Human consciousness as complex, flawed, adventurous but failing--cf. Henry James
symbols foregrounded, must be interpreted (but act of interpretation never completed; symbols must)
correspondence between interior and exterior
truth as evanescent, ephemeral, transient, elusive: "flickering," "glimmering"
have, could have
"something"--Hawthorne leaves a void that reader participates in filling