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  • Hawthorne's Old Manse Biographers
  • Frederick Newberry (bio)

No full-scale biography provides an adequate investigation of Hawthorne's ideas relevant to philosophy, religion, history, and literary craft. However scrupulous biographers have been in attempting to get the outer facts in Hawthorne's life straight, or in examining his life and works for psychological manifestations belonging to Hawthorne personally, they have fallen a good deal shy of describing Hawthorne's intellectual engagement with ideas and events both in history and in his own time. With respect to his mind, then, criticism has done the job better. I propose to undertake a chronological review of the pertinent American biographies written on Hawthorne with an eye to what has been done and what might yet be done; and as a representative sample, I shall draw from coverage of the Old Manse years (1842–1845) during Hawthorne's honeymoon period, when he became well acquainted with Transcendental thinking in the midst of many reform movements and on the heels of his several months at the utopian community of Brook Farm.

The first biography was George Parsons Lathrop's Hawthorne: A Study (1876), a hagiography that Lathrop unabashedly calls an "homage."1 He was married to Hawthorne's youngest daughter, Rose, and so he had the advantage of her memories along with those of brother Julian and Aunt Elizabeth (Ebe), not to mention the memories related in correspondence from Hawthorne's best friend, Horatio Bridge, plus access to some letters of Hawthorne and wife Sophia, and editions of Hawthorne's Notebooks. But after coverage of the romancer's life up to the publication of Twice-told Tales (1837), the "portrait" (7), as Lathrop prefers to call it, drastically declines in details, offering nothing substantive on Hawthorne's marriage and years at the Old Manse and nothing on his work written there. This result comes as a surprise inasmuch as Lathrop inaugurates the fairly pervasive view of Hawthorne's gloomy and solitary self; for, as most later biographers will have it, marriage and the Manse years brought Hawthorne the greatest happiness in his post-childhood life.

Henry James's Hawthorne (1879) depends on Lathrop's biography and likewise offers no details on the Manse years, but in his analysis of the fiction, notebooks, and correspondence, James claims a distinction must be made concerning Hawthorne's intellect: "… his mind proper—his [End Page 55] mind in so far as it was a repository of opinions and articles of faith—had no development that is of especial importnce to look into. What had a development was his imagination—that delicate and penetrating imagination which was always at play, always entertaining itself, always engaged in a game of hide-and-seek in the region in which it seemed to him that the game could best be played—among the shadows and substructions, the dark-based pillars and supports of our moral nature."2 As sensitive and acute a reader as James is, it does not occur to him that Hawthorne may well conceal ideas in the imaginative play revealed in his fiction, to which, for the Old Manse years, he gives no attention.

The first full-scale coverage of Hawthorne's life was the two-volume Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife (1885) by his son Julian. But we might want to observe that Sophia makes her titled appearance not in name but in her subordinate marital role. No coincidence, therefore, that she functions to pay honor to her Adamic lover. Julian submits his account of the Manse years largely through worshipful letters written by Sophia to friends and members of her Peabody family. Aside from brief commentary on Hawthorne's financial straits as a result of publishers' delayed or omitted payments for his writing, the portrait of his life at the Old Manse is decidedly idyllic, even though Julian does not quite exploit the postcard-Edenic version of the first year or two as do some later biographers. Of crucial note here is the fact that Julian completely ignores Hawthorne's writing during these years. Indeed, at one point he makes the astonishing claim that "If [Hawthorne] had never written a line, he would still have possessed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-3377
Print ISSN
0743-6831
Pages
pp. 55-71
Launched on MUSE
2018-11-29
Open Access
No
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