Nathaniel Hawthorne - Biography
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
Commentary by Karen Bernardo
Nathaniel Hawthorne is best-known as a novelist, the author of such
seminal works as The Scarlet Letter. Yet few people realize that he was also one of the early masters of the
modern short story. Like his novels, Hawthorne's stories often deal with the issues of sin and guilt. His
obsession with this topics may well derive from his Puritan ancestry; a great-great uncle was actually a judge
in the Salem witch trials. Another of his favorite topics was the nineteenth-century obsession with science,
which he deeply distrusted.
Whatever the theme, however, Hawthorne's writing tends to be deeply symbolic, bypassing the conscious, logical
mind to tap into the more dream-like processes below. For this reason, his work formed a philosophical bridge
between the excesses of the Gothic imagination and the clear-thinking optimism of Transcendentalists such as
Emerson. On the one hand, like the Gothic writers of his day, Hawthorne wants to pack as much subconscious meaning
as possible into the story, because in this way it will strike deeper into our psyches and hang on for dear life.
On the other hand, he wants us to recognize that it is more than a story; it is a parable, and it is told with the
intention that we should consciously decode the symbolism in the story and reform our lives accordingly. And like
the Transcendentalists, he believed that each one of us has within our hearts the power to do so.
But his position in literary history is not what makes Hawthorne worth reading today. More subtle than his
contemporary Edgar Allan Poe and in some ways anticipating Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne virtually invented the
psychological horror story. Nearly two hundred years later, those stories have as much power to work their magic as
they did the day they were written.
Would you like to read Nathaniel Hawthorne's stories in their entirety? Click here! Nathaniel Hawthorne : Tales and
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