In 1841, Hawthorne became a charter member of Brook Farm, an agricultural collective founded by Unitarian minister George Ripley near Boston. The author expected that farm life would free up more time for him to write, but he quickly soured on the Transcendental commune as he laboriously cut straw, milked cows and shoveled a hill of manure that Ripley called the “gold mine.” Hawthorne’s blistered hands hampered his writing, and he wondered how anyone could “expect pretty stories from a man who feeds pigs.” Disillusioned, he left after just a few months at the commune, which later inspired his 1852 novel “The Blithedale Romance.”
He lived in the same houses as two other famed Transcendental authors.
In 1842, Hawthorne and his newlywed wife, Sophia, moved into the Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts, a homestead in which Ralph Waldo Emerson had previously composed the first draft of “Nature,” the essay that launched the Transcendental movement. Another Transcendental leader, Henry David Thoreau, planted an heirloom vegetable garden for the Hawthornes when they moved into the Old Manse. A decade later, the Hawthornes moved into another Concord house with a literary past—the Wayside, the childhood home of author Louisa May Alcott.
Zachary Taylor’s election led to the publication of “The Scarlet Letter.”
Struggling financially as a writer, Hawthorne through his connections with the Democratic Party procured a political appointment in 1846 to be a Custom House surveyor in his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts. Following the 1849 inauguration of Taylor, the president’s fellow Whig Party members accused Hawthorne of “corruption, iniquity and fraud.” Hawthorne’s fierce fight to retain his government job was covered by partisan newspapers around the country, but he was ultimately let go in June 1849. After his dismissal, the novelist immersed himself for months in writing “The Scarlet Letter,” considered by many to be his best work.
“The Scarlet Letter” was an instant best-seller—but not for the reason you think.
When “The Scarlet Letter” was published in the spring of 1850, the initial print run of 2,500 copies sold out in only 10 days. However, given the publicity that had surrounded Hawthorne’s firing the year before, readers were initially less interested in the tale of Hester Prynne than they were in the novel’s introduction, “The Custom-House,” in which Hawthorne’s barbed pen skewered his political enemies.
He served as an American diplomat.
Shortly after Hawthorne completed writing “Tanglewood Tales” in 1853, the Senate approved his nomination by the newly inaugurated Pierce to be a United States consul in Liverpool, England, among the most lucrative of diplomatic positions. During his four years in the diplomatic corps, Hawthorne did not publish any major works.
Hawthorne’s youngest daughter has been proposed for sainthood.
Rose Hawthorne, who initially pursued a literary career like her father, converted to Roman Catholicism with her husband. Following the death of her 5-year-old boy and her husband, she moved into a tenement in an impoverished New York City neighborhood and began nursing incurable cancer patients. She then joined a religious order and became a nun, Mother Mary Alphonsa. In 1900, she co-founded the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne to continue her work with impoverished cancer patients. In 2003, she was nominated for sainthood.
Hawthorne was separated from his wife for 142 years.
Seven years after Sophia Hawthorne buried her husband in Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, she passed away in London. She was interred an ocean away from her husband along with their daughter Una when she died in 1877. In 2006, the bodies of Hawthorne’s wife and daughter were unearthed from London’s Kensal Green Cemetery and reinterred next to his side.