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The American Romantic Movement

Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Who is Nathaniel Hawthorne?

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Nathaniel Hawthorne

Born on July 4, 1804, Nathaniel Hawthorne's life was one of the many in his time period to produce many great romantic works.  His early years as well as the family history that proceeded his birth,  built up to the romantic perspective that was signature of his romantic works that followed in his later years.  William Hathorne was the founder of the Hawthorne family in New England in 1630.  He later moved Salem and took his position as the first speaker in the Massachusetts Colony’s House of Delegates.  John Hathorne, William's eldest son, also staked his claim in Salem with a less than popular legacy left behind, for this Hathorne is also the one remembered for the Salem witchcraft trials in which many innocent men and women tragically met their deaths under the grounds of fear and ignorance.  Three generations later Nathaniel Hawthorne was born, also in Salem, and though his life was very much his own and in that respect somewhat disconnected from the history of his ancestors, the shame of his families prior involvement in the society to which he was still involved certainly remained an influence in his life (Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 2006). Hawthorne’s deep obsession with topics surrounding guilt and atonement and sin can be related directly back to the sense of guilt that he carried with him for the role of his ancestors in these trials.

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Salem Village, where Hawthorne was born.

Four years after Hawthorne’s birth, in 1808, his father, also named Nathaniel passed away from a plague of yellow fever leaving Nathaniel, Nathaniel’s two sisters and his wife, Elizabeth Clarke Manning dependent on the Manning family.  Living with this side of his family, Nathaniel’s life fluctuated between his birth home of Salem and Raymond, Maine.  It was in Maine that young Hawthorne developed his love for nature and passion for solitude.  At a young age Hawthorne was said to be “delicate” and at the age of nine, an injury to his foot disabled him for a total of three years.  During this time of his life, Hawthorne found particular enjoyment in reading and the Manning elaborate libraries in both their Maine and Salem homes accommodated his interest particularly well (Perkins, G., 1991).  It also began his life of moderate seclusion and isolation.  These beginning years were the foundation to Hawthorne’s later work.

 

As time progressed it became more and more increasingly clear that Hawthorne was not fit for the prior family trades or for a life at sea.  It was in 1821 that his family compiled enough of their resources to send him to Bowdoin College in Maine.  After this education, Hawthorne dedicated himself to  life of writing.  Throughout his literary career he made friends with many other romantic authors including Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller and Melville.  To supplement his writing income, Hawthorne also  took a job at the Boston customhouse.  As time progressed he also looked into other occupations in the experimental community called Brook Farm.  This experience lasted only a short six months but it defined his purpose within the Romantic Movement a bit more clearly.  These months taught Hawthorne that he did not share in the ideals or optimism of the  transcendentalist romantics.  In his later years, after establishing a relationship with Franklin Pierce and writing his biography, Hawthorne was given the position of consul at Liverpool after Pierce became president.  Despite his somewhat reserved mannerisms, this time in his life also produced a marriage to a Ms. Sophia Amelia Peabody in 1842.  Together they settled in Concord, Massachusetts as husband and wife and Hawthorne’s writing continued (American Romanticism).

 

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The Scarlet Letter

Within his literary career, Nathaniel Hawthorne underwent many trials and tribulations as well as many successes.  His style was uniquely his own and his short stories and novels have often been considered the first American psychological tales.  Hawthorne dug deep into the introspection of the human soul with its perfections and its vices.  The book The Scarlet Letter, one of his most famous works, takes a personal and in depth look into human morality and guilt and protection and the importance of shielding the individual from the sometimes harsh external world.  He used his writing as an allegorical form of expressing tales of suffering, internal struggle, hypocrisy, and frailty.  Hawthorne believed that beneath all of the societal influences in a person's life there could be found “the truth of the human heart” and through symbolism and intense character development, he aimed to shine through to the reader that inner heart.  For this reason alone and the many others that exist, Nathaniel Hawthorne was a great Romantic author.  Among his most famous works are “Young Goodman Brown”, “The Great Stone Face”, “The Ministers Black Veil”, The Scarlet Letter, The Marble Faun, and the children’s book Tanglewood Tales (Nathaniel Hawthorne, 2006). 

Butterfly

The Artist of the Beautiful...an expression of Romanticism

Hawthorne’s short story “The Artist of the Beautiful” is not only a beautifully told and enticing piece, it is a very concrete example of Hawthorne’s romantic self.  It is the story of a watchmaker named Owen Warland who has an obsession with the beautiful and with the intricacy of nature and its creations.  For a long time he sits in his shop creating intricate and beautiful mechanics and delving into the minute and specific hand movements that create beauty.  Through his shop window, Peter Hovenden, an older watchmaker who formerly employed Warland as an apprentice, watches Warland’s concentrated movements with his daughter, Annie.  Hovenden’s character provides a symbol for society in this story.  He is concentrated only on what is efficient and powerful.  Upon crossing the shop of Robert Danforth, a blacksmith and Annie’s future husband, Hovenden comments, “I say again, it is a good and wholesome thing to depend upon main strength and reality, and to earn one’s bread with the bare and brawny arm of a blacksmith.” (The Artist of the Beautiful, 2005).   It is this statement and the actual person, Robert Danforth, that foil Warland’s character and supply the focus for the Romantic elements in this story.  When Annie, who Warland is in love with, begins to appear different from the perfect picture he had of her, his dreams enter a state of sleep and are not awakened until one day a butterfly crosses his path.  With this inspiration Warland’s creativity and love for the beautiful is bolstered and by the time of a get together at the home of the newly wed Annie and Danforth, Warland has captured the beauty and perfection of nature in a mechanical butterfly.  Tragically at the end of the story, the butterfly is crushed by a small child’s hand but nothing for Owen Warland was destroyed.  “He had caught a far other butterfly than this.  When the artist rose high enough to achieve the beautiful, the symbol by which he made it perceptible to mortal senses became of little value in his eyes which his spirit possessed itself in the enjoyment of the reality.” (The Artist of the Beautiful, 2005).

In this story, nature and the simplicity of what is beautiful and true, take hold of a young man’s imagination and, in a somewhat fantastical story this man is able to attain this magic in a form tangible enough for those around him to touch and feel.  Nature is treasured and used as a means to transcend the harsh, blacksmith type work of society.  A butterfly is captured and adapted to the individual and it is treasured.  A small child represents innocents and understanding.  It is interesting that the child, who is so passionate and loving and intensely real is also the one who destroys the butterfly, but this is the aspect of reality that Hawthorne ties into his work.  Hawthorne’s childhood years of nature and seclusion are detailed in the recluse life of Owen Warland who finds his inspiration in the contemplation and deep introspection regarding a butterfly.  Hawthorne demands the perfectibility of man in his attempt to delve into the internal life of Warland.  His deep character development allows the reader to have an intimate relationship with the plot and plays upon the Romantic ideals of introspection.  This short story is very personal and very much so an expression of Hawthorne and the Romantic literature movement of which he is apart. 

Hawthorne's grave
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And in the End...

In 1860, Nathaniel Hawthorne left England for his home in Salem and lived his last years writing and slowly fading away.  His writing suffered with his age and his health slowly, yet surely began to leave him.  On May 19, 1864, Hawthorne accompanied his friend Franklin Pierce on a trip to the mountains in Plymouth, NH and while sleeping, he died leaving behind a plethora of celebrated works (Nathaniel Hawthorne, 2006).  Hawthorne was a true believer in the message of the Romantics.  His childhood led him to an infallible respect for the care of nature and his isolated time drew in the introspection that was also so key to the Romantic Movement.  Hawthorne was uniquely talented with an ability to capture each aspect of the human mind and dancing up and over the line of what can be considered truth.  He was dedicated to the exploration of the human mind in its fallibility and its frailty as well as its perfectibility and its passions and its beauty.  He was a true Romantic and a true philosopher in his quest for truth.  By the merit of the characters he was able to create, it is quite possible that he found this truth for himself.

Some of Nathaniel Hawthorne's works...

The Artist of the Beautiful

The Great Stone Face

The Scarlet Letter

The Minister's Black Veil

The House of the Seven Gables

Twice-Told Tales

Tanglewood Tales

Young Goodman Brown

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References

 

(2004).  Hawthorne, Nathaniel.  Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 13, Pgs. 886-889.

 

American Romanticism (or the American Renaissance). 

http://www.vcu.edu/engweb372/intro.html

 

The Artist of the Beautiful.  Retrieved November 11, 2005, from online-literature.com: 

http://www.online-literature.com/hawthorne /124/

 

Hawthorne, Nathaniel.  Retrieved February 15, 2006, from Infotrac:

http://web4.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/361/691/81119128w4/purl=rcl

 

Hawthorne, Nathaniel.  Received February 15, 2006, from The Colombia Encyclopedia,

Sixth Edition 2005.

 

Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Retrieved February 15, 2006, from MSN Encarta:

http://encarta.msn.com/text_761553634__0/Nathaniel_Hawthorne.html

 

Perkins, G., Perkins, B., Leininger, P.  (1991).  Hawthorne, Nathaniel.  Reader’s

Encyclopedia of American Literature, Second Edition, Pgs. 412-415.