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Hawthorne, Nathaniel

supernatural england characters letter

(US, 1804–64)

Born at Salem, Massachussetts, Hawthorne's imaginative preoccupation with New England's puritan past grew out of his own ancestry, and solitary apprenticeship as a writer. The result was a haunting body of work, full of characters oppressed by consciousness of sin, guilt, and retribution, but also full of symbols and the supernatural, which he called ‘the Marvellous’. His stories were collected in Twice-Told Tales (1837, enlarged 1842), Mosses from an Old Manse (1842), and The Snow Image (1852). Among the best-known stories are ‘Young Goodman Brown’, in which a newly married man observes all the prominent citizens of a small town at a witches’ sabbath in the woods, including his wife; and ‘Wakefield’, the story of a man's perverse self-banishment from home for twenty years. ‘Rappaccini's Daughter’, ostensibly an allegory of intellectual pride and evil, can now be read as a tale of voyeurism and repressed desire. Hawthorne's greatest work is The Scarlet Letter (1850), a dark moral fable revolving around the guilty secret linking the adulterous Hester Prynne with pious clergyman Arthur Dimmesdale, and her persecution by the community. Despite its deliberately archaic language, the novel's compelling characters and moments of supernatural intervention, most famously the letter ‘A’ appearing in the sky, have made it both memorable and influential. Hawthorne escaped the New England setting in The Marble Faun (1860), but characteristically dealt with repressed passion, leading to murder and guilt, among young Americans living in Rome.

Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, Margaret Atwood. See HISTORICAL, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA  JS

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