Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, USA in 1804. Between 1821 and 1824, he attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, along with fellow poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and future American President Franklin Pierce. A shy, bookish youth, Hawthorne was writing from a young age, and published his first novel, Fanshawe, in 1828. Over the next ten years, he attempted to become a professional writer, supplementing his earnings with a job as a Boston Custom House measurer. In 1842, he married Sophia Peabody and moved to The Manse in Concord, the epicentre of the burgeoning Transcendentalist movement.
Hawthorne’s collection of short stories Mosses from an Old Manse was published in 1846, and four years later, he published his labour of love, the novel The Scarlet Letter. An immediate success, the novel remains widely read to this day, and allowed Hawthorne to devote himself full-time to his writing. Over the rest of his life, he produced six more novels, and a large amount of short stories. Aside from The Scarlet Letter, his best-known novel is probably The Marble Faun, and his best-remembered short stories include ‘My Kinsman’, ‘Major Molineux’, ‘Young Goodman Browne’ and ‘Feathertop’.
Hawthorne died in 1864, following a long period of illness which included bouts of dementia. Though Hawthorne himself was perpetually dissatisfied with his body of work, he remains lauded as one of the greatest American writers, and The Scarlet Letter remains a standard school text in the USA. In 1879, Henry James called Hawthorne “the most valuable example of the American genius.”