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Hawthorne, Nathaniel

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1804-1864) US author, father of Julian Hawthorne, whose work in the literatures of the fantastic – a surprisingly high proportion of his oeuvre – concentrates supernatural fiction, much of this material being rationalized, however, in sf terms. One of the formative figures in US literature, Hawthorne was intrigued throughout his writing career by themes that would become common to sf. His extensive notebooks outline dozens of projected sf works – some of which he was able to complete, while others he worked on unsuccessfully until his death – featuring a long line of doctors, chemists, botanists, mesmerists (see Hypnosis), physicists and inventors, who parade their creative and destructive skills through his fiction, supplying even the most apparently fantastic events with naturalistic, sf-like explanations.

In three of his four major romances, sf elements run as a main undercurrent. A secret medical experiment controls the plot of The Scarlet Letter (1850); the main action of The House of the Seven Gables (1851) derives from Hypnotism and a strange inherited disease, concluding with the uncanny unveiling of the portrait of the mansion's original owner, who is of Native American blood (see Mysterious Stranger); and all the major events in The Blithedale Romance (1852) flow from a major topic of nineteenth-century sf, mesmeric control (see Hypnosis). A Scientist's quest for the elixir of life is the subject of "Dr Heidegger's Experiment" (January 1837 The Knickerbocker as "The Fountain of Youth" anonymous) and two unfinished, posthumously published romances are differing draft attempts at the same basic story: the title story of The Dolliver Romance and Other Pieces (January 1864 The Atlantic Monthly as "A Scene from The Dolliver Romance", first chapter only of three; coll 1876), and Septimius: A Romance (1872; vt Septimius Felton, or The Elixir of Life 1872).

Most of Hawthorne's short work for adults appears in Twice-Told Tales (coll 1837; exp 1842 2vols), Mosses from an Old Manse (coll 1846) and The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales (coll 1851); all this material – as well as A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls (coll 1852) and Tanglewood Tales for Boys and Girls: Being a Second Wonder Book (coll 1853) – has been assembled as Tales and Sketches (coll 1982). Three of his stories had profound influences on subsequent nineteenth-century sf, and all three still stand as masterpieces of the genre. In "The Birthmark" (March 1843 The Pioneer) a lone genius who has invented numerous scientific marvels (see Invention) commits the fatal error of attempting to remove the one blemish which keeps his wife from being perfect, a tiny birthmark which makes this lovely woman disgusting to him. "The Artist of the Beautiful" (June 1844 United States Magazine and Democratic Review) describes the creation of an Automaton butterfly which, for another lone inventive genius, substitutes for love, Sex and biological procreation. In "Rappaccini's Daughter" (December 1844 United States Magazine and Democratic Review) a scientist attempts to make his only child impervious to the evils of the world by filling her with secret Poisons, but is foiled by his arch-rival. A further tale of interest, "P's Correspondence" (April 1845 United States Magazine and Democratic Review), is an early Alternate History story in which the survival of Lord Byron, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley has significantly affected British politics. Some lesser stories, such as "The Man of Adamant: An Apologue" (in The Token and Atlantic Souvenir, anth 1837), come directly from Pseudoscientific curiosities Hawthorne encountered as editor of The American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge. Part of the enduring power of this aspect of Hawthorne's central body of short fiction comes from its deep penetration into the psychology of a group of men emerging in contemporary society, the technical-scientific elite. Hawthorne's sf extends the achievements of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) into the dawn of the age of modern science and the literature that is part of that age's culture, modern sf. [HBF]

see also: Arts; Biology; Clichés; History of SF; Horror in SF; Machines; Medicine; Toys.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

born Salem, Massachusetts: 4 July 1804

died Plymouth, New Hampshire: 19 May 1864

works (selected)

Most posthumous compilations are omitted.


Elixir of Life

individual titles

collections and stories

about the author

A very limited selection from the extended literature:

  • Henry James. Hawthorne (London: Macmillan and Company, 1879) [nonfiction: in the publisher's English Men of Letters series: hb/nonpictorial]
  • Harry Levin. The Power of Blackness: Hawthorne, Poe, Melville (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1958) [nonfiction: hb/]
  • Tobin Siebers. The Romantic Fantastic (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1984) [nonfiction: discussion throughout but mostly pp 122-166: hb/Harry Clarke]


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