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Birthmark : Biography

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Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts, to Nathaniel Hathorne, a sea captain, and Elizabeth Clarke Manning. His ancestors came from England as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the seventeenth century. Hawthorne's father died when he was a boy, and his mother and sisters moved in with the Mannings of Salem where they lived for ten years. His uncles built the family a home in Raymond, Maine, where Hawthorne loved to run wild in nature. He went to Salem for school and wrote a homemade newspaper for his family called The Spectator in which he published his own essays and poems.

Hawthorne went to Bowdoin College from 1821 to 1825, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He published his first novel, Fanshawe in 1828. He also published many short stories in journals, which he collected as Twice-Told Tales in 1837. Among these is “The Birthmark.” In 1838 he became engaged to Sophia Peabody, whom he met through his Transcendentalist friend, Bronson Alcott. He joined the Transcendentalist commune, Brook Farm, to save money, but did not like it and left for a custom house position. He married Sophia Peabody in 1842 and moved to the Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts, where his neighbor was Ralph Waldo Emerson. There he wrote the stories collected as Mosses from the Old Manse, 1846. The Hawthornes had three children: Una (a model for the character Pearl in The Scarlet Letter), Julian, and Rose. He worked at the Custom House in Salem where he had trouble finding time to write, but it furnished the background for his masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter (1850). The book became a best-seller and gave Hawthorne a living and fame as an author. When Hawthorne moved his family to a farm in Lenox, Massachusetts, he became neighbors with Herman Melville, who was influenced by his work.

After publishing The House of the Seven Gables (1851) and The Blithedale Romance (1852), Hawthorne returned to Concord to live at Wayside and be neighbors with Emerson and Thoreau. When Hawthorne's friend Franklin Pierce was elected U.S. president, he was appointed as United States Consul in Liverpool, England,the same year he published Tanglewood Tales in 1853. At the end of the appointment he and his family toured Europe. He returned to Concord in 1860 and published The Marble Faun that year.

Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, on a trip with Franklin Pierce to recover his health, in Plymouth, New Hampshire. As other American authors were to capture the American South and American West in their writing, Hawthorne is known for distilling the essence of New England in his novels. He took Puritan allegory and turned it into Romantic allegory, exploring metaphysical questions about sin, guilt, and the burden of history.


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