Born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804, Nathaniel Hawthorne
was a descendant of one Judge Hathorne who had been a member of the tribunal
that sentenced 20 people to death for witchcraft in 1692. As readers of The
House of the Seven Gables will soon discover, the family history loomed
large in Hawthorne's mind. He was raised as a strict Puritan, leaving the young
Hawthorne with a vivid sense of the total depravity of a fallen and sinful
humanity-a theme that surfaces time and again in his work. Indeed, "much of Hawthorne's fiction made his readers rethink and reexamine the Puritan past" (Hans P. Guth
and Gabriele L. Rico, Discovering Literature, Compact Edition; Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000; p. 187). Such reexamination encompassed
both Puritanism's negative and positive legacies.
Part of Hawthorne's personal coming to terms with his
family's historical and theological legacy involved his experimentation at
Brook Farm, a progressive commune that attracted many of the brightest thinkers
of Hawthorne's day. After about six months, however, he found that he did not
fully embrace the idealistic, optimistic, transcendentalist stance of this
Hawthorne and his wife Sophia-upon whom many critics
speculate the character of Phoebe in The House of the Seven Gables may
be modeled-settled in Salem in 1842, where Hawthorne resumed his previously
unsuccessful efforts to support himself as a writer. And although he did have
to take a job as surveyor at Salem's port, his literary fortunes also fared better.
His novel The Scarlet Letter (1850) is still considered a foundational
masterpiece of American literature. The House of the Seven Gables followed
in 1851. Other novels and short stories succeeded these two masterpieces.
Additionally, he served as consul in Liverpool, England because of his
connection-college friend-to President Franklin Pierce. Another of Hawthorne's notable friends was Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick; in fact,
Melville dedicated the novel to Hawthorne.
Hawthorne died in 1864 while on a mountain trip with