The clear-cut images that fall like leaves through your mind as you read the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, are impressions that hardly fade with time. Hawthorne wrote timelessly. He wrote beneath the surface, as he could see the motivations, the innermost thoughts of his characters. He created solid novels that live and have atmosphere between the front and back covers. He was a master at writing.
Aside from his novels, Nathaniel Hawthorne lived a very real life, and he left traces of it behind for those who care to follow. Hawthorne rambled around our New England, from house to house, always writing bits and pieces of his American masterpieces. Perhaps it was his artistic mind that caused him to ramble so. I rambled around the New England countryside one autumn, following Hawthorne’s architectural footsteps. I was able to explore The Wayside, Old Manse, and even The House of the Seven Gables.
The House of the Seven Gables
Angles and gables, like vacant eyes, dart out against the clear-cut sky. Shore birds scavenge along the shoals across the water from where the boats are. The House of the Seven Gables stands stark and shadowy by the seaside of Salem, Massachusetts. The sunshine is bright and warm, yet the painted siding is still untouchably gloomy and seems to be stained from the witch trial years.
Yes, it really does exist. The home of Hepzibah Pyncheon is real, even though she is fictional. When renovations were made to the house in the early 1900’s, a room was dedicated to her in a recreation of her cent-shop. The rest of the house recalls the book to memory and makes the ghostly atmosphere that Hawthorne created come alive. There is a great fireplace with a wide hearth, and a secret staircase that narrowly winds up from one story to the next. Outside, the seaside gardens breathe in the salty air and offer a reposeful bench or two for an afternoon read. It is like Phoebe’s garden; the blossoms are bright beneath the overbearing gables above. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin, Susannah Ingersoll, lived here when he was a child. Hawthorne himself was born down the street, and his birthplace has since been moved next door to the Seven Gables. Her house must have loomed greatly in his imagination as he wrote The House of the Seven Gables.
Concord, Massachusetts holds the first home that Nathaniel and Sophia lived in as a married couple. They stayed at the Old Manse, which was built by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather, for three honeymoon years. Outside, a garden is planted in remembrance of the garden that Henry David Thoreau created as a wedding gift for the couple. Etchings from Sophia’s diamond ring can still be seen in some of the window panes. Some of them read: “Man’s accidents are God’s purposes. Sophia A. Hawthorne 1843” or “Inscribed by my husband at sunset, April 3, 1843. In the Gold light.” The Hawthornes were very happy together, and they were blessed with their first daughter, Una, while living at the Old Manse. Readers of Mosses from an Old Manse will be pleased to see how the landscape around the house seems familiar, even over a hundred and fifty years after the book was written. Near the house and under the famous NorthBridge where the Revolutionary War began, the ConcordRiver still makes its sluggish way through the centuries.
The Wayside, also in Concord, was the only home that Hawthorne ever owned. He bought it from the Bronson Alcott in 1852. A year later he moved with wife and three children to Europe, acting as United States consul to England and traveling across the continent to France and Italy. In 1860, they moved back to the Wayside, and Nathaniel spent his last years there. The house itself seems thrown along the wayside. Perhaps that is why Hawthorne changed the name from The Hillside, which is what the Alcotts called it, or maybe he felt personally thrown to the wayside of the world. A pathway, trodden down by the footsteps of Hawthorne himself, leads from the house up the hill behind it. The wind moans through the trees, recalling the groaning of Hawthorne’s own soul as he attempted to clear his mind beneath the swaying boughs. How many thoughts, how many visionary dreams were given air to breathe in that forest! It is peaceful there now; it is at rest along with Hawthorne. Inside the Wayside, the curtains are drawn to keep the new light from permeating the old furniture and books. Up in the three-story tower is Hawthorne’s sky parlour. He had already penned all his masterpieces before he constructed the tower, but the few things he sketched in his last days, he wrote standing up at his desk, facing away from the window, blocking out the world.
Nathaniel Hawthorne left behind a great legacy to readers alive today. His works contribute much to the American novel and short story. The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, and a multitude of short stories are some of the most beloved writings in American literature. Hawthorne was incredibly influenced by his surroundings, and the beauty as well as the dark side of New England has become immortalized through Hawthorne’s pen.
Visit Emily Dickinson's Home!
- The Emily Dickinson Homestead in Amherst Massachusetts
It was an ideal setting in an autumn afternoon. The atmosphere was clear, apart from definition. Dapple-dotted sunshine filtered through minty leaves, leaving birthmarks on the house. Forest green shutters...
Rose West (author) from Michigan on February 09, 2010:
Thanks for reading, Joy at Home! Visiting an author's home is always fascinating! I love Hawthorne's work as well.
Joilene Rasmussen from United States on February 09, 2010:
Thank you for this new and fascinating view of Hawthorne and his life. I have enjoyed his writings very much, and found them unforgettable.
Ann Leavitt from Oregon on June 01, 2009:
Your descriptions make me feel as if I am there with you, following Hawthorne's thoughts. I enjoyed the anecdotes about the diamond ring, the standing-up desk, and the winding forest pathway. Very well written (you seem to be following in the footsteps of Hawthorne in that way as well!), and the pictures were fascinating!