Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the descendent of some of the state’s most unforgiving Puritan judges. Despite financial hardship, he was able to attend Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine, where he met Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Hawthorne described himself as an indifferent student, but he wrote avidly, and shortly after graduation produced some of his best-known short stories. With only moderate critical success, however, Hawthorne was forced to take a job as a customs officer. During this period, he rented rooms from George Hillard at 54 Pinckney Street, near the Peabody sisters, whom he had recently met in Salem.
Hawthorne left Boston for the transcendentalist commune Brook Farm, but stayed less than a year. He was married to the painter Sophia Peabody in summer of 1842, and they moved to Concord, into a house rented from Ralph Waldo Emerson, near figures such as Bronson Alcott and Henry David Thoreau. Though Hawthorne was surrounded by the most prominent members of transcendentalist movement, he himself never fully agreed with the group’s objectives.
After several years—and with the addition of several children—Hawthorne was forced to move the family back to Salem. There, he worked as a surveyor until political machinations left him without a job. Following that misfortune and the death of his mother, Hawthorne sat down to write and produced his best-known work, The Scarlet Letter, detailing the ostracization of unmarried mother Hester Prynne in Puritan New England. During this period, he also developed a friendship with writer Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, which was dedicated to Hawthorne as a “token of my admiration for his genius.”
Following the success of The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne wrote several other well-known novels, including The House of Seven Gables and, while on a tour abroad, The Marble Faun. He was finally able to return to Concord, purchasing the Alcotts’ former house there and adding a tower for his study. His health and faculties deteriorated rapidly, and he died in 1864.