Romanticism in Antibellum America
Several writers chose to make their mark during the pre Civil War Antebellum Era. Among these was Nathaniel Hawthorne, perhaps one of the most influential authors in American history. His works focused on a theme of dark romanticism and the harsh undertones of American life.
This portrait depicts Hawthorne as a young man.
A statue of Hawthorne in his home town of Salem, MA.
A photograph of Hawthorne taken near the end of the Antebellum period.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts on July 4th of 1804, to Nathaniel and Elizabeth Hathorne. When Hawthorne was four, his father, a captain in the U.S. Navy, died. In 1816, he and his family moved to a house located in Raymond, Maine. Hawthorne was an introverted child, and preferred to spend his time reading or playing in the woods that surrounded his new home. In 1819, he returned to Salem before attending Bowdoin College from 1821 to 1825. Hawthorne had always been ashamed of his Puritan ancestors' roles in the Salem Witch Trials, particularly that of Judge John Hathorne, his great-great-grandfather. In an attempt to separate himself from this dark family legacy, Nathaniel "Hathorne" added a 'w' to his name shortly after graduating from college, thus becoming Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Hawthorne published many journals and short stories during his college years, however, he wrote his most significant works later in his career. In 1828, he published his first novel, Fanshawe, which he would deny writing as it was under par to his later works. In 1837, Hawthorne first made a serious name for himself after publishing a collection of short stories in a single volume, which he titled Twice- Told Tales. On July 9, 1842, Hawthorne married his long time lover Sophia Peabody (pictured above). The two moved back to Massachusetts and raised three children. In 1850, Hawthorne published his most well known novel: The Scarlet Letter.
Throughout the rest of his life, Hawthorne published several other works, including The House of the Seven Gables, Tanglewood Tales, Blithedale Romance, Feathertop, and many others. Hawthorne's writing career ended on May 19, 1964, when he died at the age of fifty- nine.
Hawthorne expressed himself in literature throughout his entire life, and first began publishing his work as a teenager. His career reached its culmination when he published many successful novels during the 1850s.
Published in 1850, The Scarlet Letter has been considered by many to be Hawthorne's magnum opus. Though it was set in Salem, Massachusetts during the 1600s, it focused on many key themes still present in Antebellum America, including human emotion and the constant presence of religious dictum. Many believed this to be Hawthorne's response to the "spiritual awakening" sweeping America, especially because of its dual nature. Some revivalists sought greater spiritual awareness, while others simply repented under the weight of threats to eternal damnation. Similarly, the characters in The Scarlet Letter either bent under the oppressive religious nature of their setting, or chose to be content outside of the typical religious right.