March 16

This Day in History

Literary

Mar 16, 1850:

The Scarlet Letter is published

Nathaniel Hawthorne's story of adultery and betrayal in colonial America, The Scarlet Letter, is published.

Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804. Although the infamous Salem witch trials had taken place more than 100 years earlier, the events still hung over the town and made a lasting impression on the young Hawthorne. Witchcraft figured in several of his works, including "Young Goodman Brown" (1835) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851), in which a house is cursed by a wizard condemned by the witch trials.

After attending Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, Hawthorne returned to Salem, where he began his career as a writer. He self-published his first book, Fanshawe (1828), but tried to destroy all copies shortly after publication. He later wrote several books of short stories, including Twice Told Tales (1837). In 1841, he tried his hand at communal living at the agricultural cooperative Brook Farm but came away highly disillusioned by the experience, which he fictionalized in his novel The Blithedale Romance (1852).

Hawthorne married Sophia Peabody in 1842, having at last earned enough money from his writing to start a family. The two lived in a house called the Old Manse, in Concord, Massachusetts, and socialized with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Branson Alcott, father of writer Louisa May Alcott.

Plagued by financial difficulties as his family grew, he took a job in 1845 at Salem's custom house, where he worked for three years. After leaving the job, he spent several months writing The Scarlet Letter, which made him famous.

In 1853, Hawthorne's old college friend, President Franklin Pierce, appointed him American consul to England, and the family moved to England, where they lived for three years. Hawthorne died in Plymouth, New Hampshire, in 1864.

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