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“Brenda Wineapple illuminates Hawthorne’s complexities without demystifying the man. He remains one of the most intriguing American writers: dark, guilty, erotic, and psychologically acute–qualities that Wineapple deftly explores.” –Margot Peters
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.
“Clearly the best biography of Hawthorne; the Hawthorne for our time. Beautifully conceived and written, it conveys the full poignancy and complexity of Hawthorne’s life; it makes vivid the times and people and places—and what a rich array of people and events! A delight to read from start to end.” —Sacvan Bercovitch, Cabot M. Powell Research Professor, Harvard University
“There is no justice for Hawthorne without the mercy which failed him in life and art. In Wineapple’s new dispensation, all the man endured and the art achieved is revealed by loving scruple and, to awful circumstance, condolent response. No biographer since James, no critic since Lawrence has limned so unsparing and therefore so speaking a likeness of our first great fabulist, from which one returns to the works with enlightened wonder. More darkness, more light! Here both abound.” —Richard Howard, Professor of Practice, School of the Arts, Columbia University
“Once again, in this vivid, almost cinematic portrait of Hawthorne, Brenda Wineapple blends impressive scholarship with fine literary skills to bring new life and a fresh luster to her subject. Her Hawthorne succeeds brilliantly in clarifying our understanding of a sometimes shadowy figure who remains, despite fad and fashion, close to the core of our national heritage in fiction.” —Arnold Rampersad, Professor of English, Stanford University
“Brenda Wineapple’s Hawthorne is, quite literally, an electrifying life. The power and sweep of the writing galvanizes a subject frozen, by earlier biographies, into a series of stills. We understand, finally, a man and artist torn by every conflict of his time, adding a few of his own, a man both strange and strangely familiar. The great achievement of this stunning biography lies in the feat of restoring Hawthorne to the rich and roiling America of his own period, while revealing him, for the first time, as our contemporary.” —Benita Eisler, author of Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame
“With the possible exception of Herman Melville, no one has ever understood the grand, tragic Shakespearian nature of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s life and work as well as Brenda Wineapple. Her brilliant, powerful, nervy, unsettling, and riveting book is authoritatively researched and beautifully written; it has itself the dark mesmeric power of a Hawthorne story. Wineapple’s Hawthorne is an intensely private man, compounded of strange depths, mysterious failings, concealments, yearnings, and unmistakable incandescent genius.” —Robert D. Richardson, author of Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind and Emerson: The Mind on Fire
“Brenda Wineapple illuminates Hawthorne’s complexities without demystifying the man. He remains one of the most intriguing American writers: dark, guilty, erotic, and psychologically acute—qualities that Wineapple deftly explores.” —Margot Peters, author of biographies of Charlotte Brontë, Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and the Barrymores