Hawthorne by Brenda Wineapple
A Life

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Handsome, reserved, almost frighteningly aloof until he was approached, then playful, cordial, Nathaniel Hawthorne was as mercurial and double-edged as his writing. “Deep as Dante,” Herman Melville said.

Hawthorne himself declared that he was not “one of those supremely hospitable people who serve up their own hearts, delicately fried, with brain sauce, as a tidbit” for the public. Yet those who knew him best often took the opposite position. “He always puts himself in his books,” said his sister-in-law Mary Mann, “he cannot help it.” His life, like his work, was extraordinary, a play of light and shadow.

In this major new biography of Hawthorne, the first in more than a decade, Brenda Wineapple, acclaimed biographer of Janet Flanner and Gertrude and Leo Stein (“Luminous”–Richard Howard), brings him brilliantly alive: an exquisite writer who shoveled dung in an attempt to found a new utopia at Brook Farm and then excoriated the community (or his attraction to it) in caustic satire; the confidant of Franklin Pierce, fourteenth president of the United States and arguably one of its worst; friend to Emerson and Thoreau and Melville who, unlike them, made fun of Abraham Lincoln and who, also unlike them, wrote compellingly of women, deeply identifying with them–he was the first major American writer to create erotic female characters. Those vibrant, independent women continue to haunt the imagination, although Hawthorne often punishes, humiliates, or kills them, as if exorcising that which enthralls.

Here is the man rooted in Salem, Massachusetts, of an old pre-Revolutionary family, reared partly in the wilds of western Maine, then schooled along with Longfellow at Bowdoin College. Here are his idyllic marriage to the youngest and prettiest of the Peabody sisters and his longtime friendships, including with Margaret Fuller, the notorious feminist writer and intellectual.

Here too is Hawthorne at the end of his days, revered as a genius, but considered as well to be an embarrassing puzzle by the Boston intelligentsia, isolated by fiercely held political loyalties that placed him against the Civil War and the currents of his time.

Brenda Wineapple navigates the high tides and chill undercurrents of Hawthorne’s fascinating life and work with clarity, nuance, and insight. The novels and tales, the incidental writings, travel notes and children’s books, letters and diaries reverberate in this biography, which both charts and protects the dark unknowable core that is quintessentially Hawthorne. In him, the quest of his generation for an authentically American voice bears disquieting fruit.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Brenda Wineapple

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Brenda Wineapple is the prize-winning author of several books, including White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and a New York Times Notable Book. A regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review and The Nation, she teaches in the MFA programs at The New School University and Columbia University's School of the Arts, and she is Doris Zemurray Stone Professor of Modern Literary and Historical Studies at Union College. She lives in New York City.
Published January 11, 2012 by Random House. 528 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Hawthorne

Kirkus Reviews

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(The first edition of Twice-Told Tales sold only a few hundred copies and was unceremoniously remaindered, and other of his books met much the same fate.) Hawthorne, writes Wineapple, nursed a dark, critical view of life, observing that his Scarlet Letter was “a h–ll fired story, into which I fou...

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Publishers Weekly

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The final years of his life coincided with an incredibly tumultuous period in American history, the Civil War, and Wineapple describes how Hawthorne alienated many Northerners with his proslavery views.

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Project MUSE

Bien que les sujets politiques que les New Historicists d’abord analysé de près dans la fiction de Hawthorne demeurent préoccupants, ils ne vise plus constamment les limites de la conscience morale, politique et culturelle de Hawthorne.

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