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Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864

Frequently Asked Questions

and less frequently answered answers

about Nathaniel Hawthorne

Was Hawthorne gay?
No, quite to the contrary, he was usually described as being a shy recluse who hardly ever partied, many of his works are full of dark and somber ideas, and he did father three children. Melville was said to have been attracted to him, but evidently Hawthorne failed to reciprocate.
How can I read The Scarlet Letter in the one hour I have free before the final exam?
You should have started earlier. You can waste time by trying to find a copy of the popular Cliffs Notes to The Scarlet Letter, but you will discover that it is almost as long as the book itself.
Instead, read online here. Start with Chapter 1 and then read the last two chapters, 23 and 24. Skim the other chapters and go back to the long introduction, The Custom-House, only if your teacher requires it.
Some summaries of the plot are in the notes online, available only from each chapter text.
Be careful, the Demi Moore movie's plot is quite different from the book's. But there is no nudity in the book--it never even uses the word "adultery."
What is the symbolism of [...] fill in the blank with... the scarlet letter, the pink ribbon, the red rose,....?
Seriously, your guess is as good as anyone's. Usually the teacher poses this sort of question to get you to think about what you read, and use your own experience to make sense of it and what associations the words call up in your own mind. So nobody can help very much if that association wasn't already there. Anyway, there are probably too many stupid explanations for those symbols for anybody to recount, and obviously they cannot all be the correct explanation. So why did you wear black jeans this morning? More interestingly, what did Hawthorne write about the symbolism? Tell us what you found. Find evidence to back up your argument for your own explanation of the symbol.
What's the difference between "The Wayside" and "The Wayside Inn"?
"The Wayside" is the name Hawthorne gave to the house he bought from Bronson Alcott, on Lexington Road in Concord, Mass, now part of Minute Man National Historical Park and open to visitors except in the winter. "The Wayside Inn" is the old privately-owned house, now inn, in Sudbury, Mass., where Longfellow fictionally cast his "Tales," or poems collected under that title. If you've confused them, you're only one of thousands over the years. Many others confuse the "Old Manse" and "The Wayside," as Julian Hawthorne pointedly pointed out years ago--he was charged with answering the door at the Wayside, so he ought to know.
I searched King's Chapel Burying Ground for the headstone of the graves of Hester Prynne and Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, as related at the end of The Scarlet Letter. I couldn't find one. Who stole it, or did Hawthorne lie?
Well, he did say it was a "romance," didn't he--meaning a fictional account of something--and the truth in a romance is the truth of the heart, not the eyes? Tourists to Boston have been searching for that headstone for years, and are as likely to find it as the Massachusetts Historical Society is to find an actual scarlet letter from Surveyor Pue in its archives.
Did the events of The House of the Seven Gables take place in the house on Turner Street in Salem, or did that location inspire Hawthorne's story?
It must be tough trying to write fiction when so many readers are more interested in the so-called facts. Julian Hawthorne coyly answered this question, and he took some secrets to his grave. Meanwhile, many people besides him have been making money from Hawthorne's name, and far be it from us to take the bread from their children's mouths. Tourists in Salem might first enjoy reading the antic visit (or non-visit) by Henry James. (Visualize Hawthorne's ladder tumbling into literary time and space.)
I recently came across this book by Hawthorne, published in 1883 (or whatever). How much is it worth?
We get lots of these questions. Readers must think we are bookdealers or experts, just because we dared to put up a Hawthorne page. The correct answer is to take the book to your favorite rare, antiquarian, or used books dealer and get a free appraisal. If you don't have a favorite, look in your Yellow Pages or use our /Search/ page to find one. Unfortunately, the resale value of the book will probably be much less than you think. Imagine to yourself, though, that if you read the book, or make sure that someone else reads it, the value will be greatly increased for you. On the other hand, if you happen to stumble across one of the Manuscript Edition volumes, you have a treasure. Houghton-Mifflin bound with those books pages of Hawthorne's original manuscripts. Most of those volumes have never been found, but archives are most interested in preserving them if they are recovered.
Subject: about the scarlet letter
        >    Date: Sun, 12 Sep 1999 23:21:26 EDT
        >    From:
        >    To:
        >     Hi,
        >        I'm being forced to read this book for school and I find it slow but 
        >     enjoyable.  I am glad you have this site for I have lost my book but It is 
        >     late and I am to tired to read and understand the complicated words used so 
        >     could you add a cliffnotes type section.
        >                                                        Thanks,
        >                                                            Vahn
See the answer to a previous question. You are in great need of an English teacher to help you understand the difference between "to" and "too," and you'll never find Cliffs Notes if you don't know the correct spelling of his last name--in fact, they refer to our pages here, for the text. But we will have to assume that your little sister has somehow observed you enter your AOL password and is trying to get you in trouble here. Could you please send the email addresses or phone numbers of your parents and teachers, so we can follow up your kind question? No doubt many readers look for the summaries first, before reading the chapters. We have given summaries for the early chapters but have not had time to finish the rest. In the meantime, if you send in your summaries we will try to respond, telling you that you are or are not on the right track, and we will consider posting your summary, giving you credit.
For some compelling reason I am fascinated by this question, and feel the need to write to ask: what did Hawthorne die from?
Nobody knows. There was no attending physician and no autopsy. He had been sick for a long time and lost weight. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was a physician, met with him for a few minutes, days before he died, but was not able to examine him, and does not provide a diagnosis in the article he wrote for the Atlantic following this sad event. Hawthorne's son, Julian, strongly denies that Hawthorne died of alcoholism, and there is absolutely no evidence to refute him. Since stomach cancer was much more common then, and would fit the symptoms, that would be an educated guess. Perhaps it had spread to his brain. Let us know if you have better ideas. More importantly, why are you so concerned about it?
I believe I am related to Hawthorne or the Manning family. Can you help me with my genealogy?
No. You'll find scraps of evidence in Julian's biography and in the American Note-Books, and probably there is genealogy information online that would be very helpful, but we can't respond to such queries, sorry.


Traditionally, the role of the FAQ in Internet history has been to provide a place to ridicule newbies and make fun of their ignorant, stupid questions, thereby increasing the morale and esprit de corps of the insiders. Since none of us is stupid, obviously, this FAQ has been able to uphold the Internet tradition, sorry. So please send in some really stupid questions and we'll try to find some appropriate answers.

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Last updated: Wed Sep 22 23:28:19 EDT 1999
©Copyright 1996-1999 Eric Eldred - see license
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