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Hawthorne: A Life

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  171 ratings  ·  39 reviews
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 th
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published September 30th 2003 by Knopf (first published 2003)
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3.92  · 
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 ·  171 ratings  ·  39 reviews

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Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After p. 100.

Well, Ms. Wineapple can't state in any clear and distinct manner what she intimates - but I'll say it for her - even if she didn't mean what I'll say she meant. It's easy for me. After all, there's nothing at stake for me in a summary judgement.

The source of Hawthorne's life-long, unnatural reserve and self-possessed detachment appears to be his experience of about twenty years, from early adolescence and perhaps from an earlier date (these events are rather dimly revealed in the r
Dec 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's not easy to write a biography of someone whose middle name might as well have been Ambivalence. Wineapple's bio is the more entertaining of modern bios because she really emphasizes this peculiar aspect of both his persona and his appeal. A notorious fence-sitter, NH professed indifference to abolition, feminism, politics, and just about every other concern of the real world, claiming the artist must reside in the imaginary. In reality, he wasn't above pressing the flesh, calling in chits, ...more
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I found this book boring. Other than writing "The Scarlet Letter," " The House of the Seven Gables,""The Blithdale Romance" et al he struggled at making a living his entire life. I started to read this book because I found out he was a good friend of President Franklin Pierce. They both attended Bowdoin College. The President graduated in 1824 while Hawthorne along with Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had graduated in 1825.

Although his great works have stood the test of time, he had made little
Helga Cohen
This biography Hawthorne: A Life by Wineapple captured the contradictory character of Hawthorne.

Hawthorne was a New England writer during the time of the Alcotts, Thoreau, Dickinson, Emerson, Longfellow, Fuller, Whitman and Melville. He was never happy where ever he was, and felt unfulfilled as a writer though he did write books that have stood the test of time with The Scarlett letter, The House of Seven Gables, and Blithedale Romance.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was a detached, reserved man who strugg
This biography looks closely at Hawthorne's life and works and ties them together. All of his writings are analyzed and viewed from the perspective that his works were his life. The author makes hundreds of assumptions and conclusions throughout the book, that I found difficult to accept, because the writer presents her statements as facts, followed by zero evidence. Creative nonfiction? Anyway, the book brings alive the life and times and work of the man. The writing and weave of this book is a ...more
Dec 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hawthorne's sister once said her brother wrote only about himself. She was right, but his "self" emerged in very disguised ways, and what Wineapple has done in her 500 plus page biography is to penetrate those disguises. She writes that the hallmark of Hawthorne's prose is "alienation, duplicity, and the sense of living double, not being what one seems or what others take one to be." In this biography she follows the chronology of Hawthorne's short stories and novels (he was not prolific) and wh ...more
Aug 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent biography and history. In all my reading of the New England writers of this time and place: the Alcotts, Thoreau, Dickinson, Emerson, etc. I feel I've read around Hawthorne. Not a very likable character, but one that evokes sympathy, from me at least. He embodied the restlessness and dissatisfaction that seems, at least in part, to curse all humans. Never fulfilled whether writing or not writing. Never happy where he was, in New England, England or Rome. Hawthorne held anti-slavery vie ...more
Susan O
I'm of two minds in rating this book. On the one hand, it is full of great information about both Hawthorne and his works, but on the other the author seems to have a type of circular reasoning. She analyzes Hawthorne in light of his works, describing him in the words of his own characters. Then she analyzes his works based on his own circumstances and life.

Wineapple is a well-respected, award winning author, so I have no reason to doubt her, but I would have preferred a biography, and characte
John Pistelli
What is the good of literary biography? I am not a great reader of the genre, possibly because every example I've ever read has had a passage like this in it, from Brenda Wineapple's popular and absorbing 2003 life of Nathaniel Hawthorne:
Like most of Hawthorne's fiction, "Rappaccini's Daughter" is a biographical palimpsest. Dr. Rappaccini is Sophia's father and Waldo Emerson. (Concord busybodies said Lidian Emerson was poisoning herself with medicine extracted from several plants.) Rappaccini is
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Is there a genre of biography called "snide?" Who knew? I was not expecting this book to be like this - I have not read any of Brenda Wineapple's books before but I know she is well respected and has written several well respected books, and this book was a few years old so it didn't come out of the new snottiness that has pervaded American culture over the past four or five years. What is going on here? The author's voice was constantly present, and it was a negative voice.

Typical example: She
Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been working as a tour guide at a Hawthorne historical site, so I've been boning up on Hawthorne. I thought this book did a great job of capturing the character of an inherently contradictory person. If you take Hawthorne's own words at any one moment, you get such a different picture of him then what his actions show. Particularly in terms of place: it seems like he's always adamantly homesick for wherever he just left, and never happy with the place he is.

I thought this was a pretty grea
I read Wineapple's book about Emily Dickinson & Higginson, and loved it. _The Scarlet Letter_ is one of my favorite books, so I looked forward to reading this Wineapple.

I was disappointed. The sentence structure was convoluted, the pacing glacial, and the chronology confusing.
Steven Ehrman
Interesting biography of one of my favorite authors. Hawthorne burned much of his correspondence, so any in depth look at his life will include some guesswork based upon his very personal works. I recommend.
Karen Adkins
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For people who, like me, do not enjoy the trend in biographies of doorstop-sized books that document signs of genius in even the most trivial detail of a life (Ray Monk's bio of Wittgenstein started this off), Brenda Wineapple's biography will be a treat. It's thorough but not exhaustive, treats his literature and his life seriously without reducing either to the other, and puts him in the context of his times without falling victim to either anachronism or antiquarianism. It also has the virtue ...more
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author went in depth discussing the plots of Hawthorne's major works, relating to his life. She sometimes went a bit far-fetched in her correlations. Overall a comprehensive biography.
Billie Pritchett
I won't rate it. It's not bad, but I wouldn't read it again. (I'm sorry: I hate how that sounds.) What drove me nuts about the book is how this biography tried to personalize every short story or novel of Hawthorne's. Of course, like any writer, he wrote what he'd experienced or what he could imagine. He'd wanted since childhood to write a story about the seven-gabled home his cousin owned and that he saw frequently in his youth. Fine detail, which tells us something to supplement his novel, The ...more
Apr 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This biography is entertaining and informative. Wineapple gives detailed insights into daily life of Hawthorne and those closest to him -- and to the ambivalence of his character, his personal demons, his inner desires and conflicts. His loathing and desire for fame all wrapped up in one are complex; his attitudes during times of change, when the U.S. is constantly redefining its identity, reflect the mentality of perhaps the average white gentlemen of the day -- not to that these attitudes shou ...more
Apr 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It must surely be the sign of a skilled author that I was kept utterly engrossed in this biography of a man I had very little interest in. I've only ever consciously read one of Hawthorne's books, The Scarlet Letter, and he has never been a figure I gave very much attention to. If asked, I would have said he lived during the Revolution, rather than later during the Civil War, simply because that was the period I associated with him, the majority of his works being set in that time.

It seems incom
May 31, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, concord
Wineapple employs an easy-to-read narrative style, which I found not altogether satisfying in this particular case, because it tended more towards imaginative historical fiction than factual biography. Wineapple frequently makes bold, interpretive statements in attempt to evoke a narrative image. This is done without any in-text notations, leaving the reader wondering how she could possibly know if what she is describing is true. She also occasionally makes unsympathetic judgments of her "charac ...more
I'm not an expert (by any means) on the art and science of biography. While I appreciated the author's detailed and vast research, the biography read more of a journalistic day-in-the-life approach rather than an interpretive approach (my personal preference for biographical studies). I always knew Hawthorne to be a Gloomy Gus, but I didn't know he was such a non-productive fellow (so much time wasted complaining about weather and location--he apparently needed all the stars and moons to line up ...more
Jean Blackwood
Jun 05, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very well-done biography of Hawthorne. I read it mainly because I am fascinated by 19th century New England and the amazing collection of people who lived and worked there.

You don't read this book and come away with a whole lot of admiration for Hawthorne, who was self-centered, rather lazy, often morose. I felt that the author did not find him all that lovable herself. But he was nonetheless a complex and interesting person, and I certainly find myself more interested in reading his w
Melanie Faith
Beautiful prose and a fascinating snapshot of the man behind the myth, as the cliche goes. As much Hawthorne as I have read, I had not realized that he had such a lout for a son (trading on the family name/fame for cash) or that Pearl was modeled after his elder daughter. With ample research as well as an accessible style, Wineapple's work is both scholarly and worthy of the label page-turner. I think that, in some spots, she could have actually paired back on the details (such as when she delve ...more
Dr. Jim
Jan 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great biography of Hawthorne. I've been to Concord so many times, so this fascinating story of Hawthorne's life is especially meaningful. Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Alcott, Melville - all neighbors and friends, wow! This is the story of Nate Hawthorne and what shaped his life as a writer, including his private life with his wife and family at the Old Manse in Concord and his relationships with the friends who shaped his life as one of the great American authors.
Excellently written but unfortunately as Hawthorne aged he became more and more unlikeable....and irritating and so did Sophia. Anyone interesting in this literary period and circle would be well disposed to read The Peabodys about Elizabeth, Sophia (Hawthorne) and Mary (Mann) - great book in every way.
Bill Ardis
May 24, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Somewhat of a frustrating biography. In the end I don't know if I got know Hawthorne very well. That could be to Hawthorne himself, he seems to be a man that wants little to do with others, especially as he ages. Or it could be due to the biographer, at times the book was a bit slow. Still it does provide an interesting glimpse into his life.
Jay C
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well done biography of one of the early lions of American literature. Hawthorne was a troubled soul, seemingly never content with his situation or location. A loner, relatively speaking, who preferred the company of his wife and himself to the "real world." This book has made me want to reread some of the Hawthorne works in my library.
James Vitarius
A well researched and comprehensive biography which makes it essential reading for fans of 19th century American Literature. I bought the book at the House of Seven Gables gift shop in Salem to which I would recommend a visit. Ms. Wineapple's prose was a little dry for my taste but within it one can find nuggets of brilliance that make the time spent reading worthwhile.
Sep 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a perfect example of how biographies should be written. Wineapple is able to find that difficult middle ground of using Hawthorne's writings as part biographical, part art-for-art's-sake. Hawthorne may be my favorite American author and this portrait of him ("warts and all") has rejuvenated my fervor.
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle-books
Extremely interesting for me since I love the American Romanticism period, but even for me, the book drags a bit. I'm not sure that the general audience would appreciate Wineapple's excellent research and attention to detail. I learned a tremendous amount not only about Hawthorne but about the so many others connected to this literary master.
Trish Little
Mar 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really great bio! It was interesting and a good read and still academic! I read this bio at the same time as reading all of his work. Doing this was really fascinating, but I am not sure whar affect it might have had on my reading.
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Brenda Wineapple is the author of the award-winning Hawthorne: A Life, Genêt: A Biography of Janet Flanner, and Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in many publications, among them The American Scholar, The New York Times Book Review, Parnassus, Poetry, and The Nation. A Guggenheim fellow, a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, an ...more