SALEM IS MY DWELLING PLACE by Edwin Haviland Miller


A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne
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 Major biography of ``America's first great storyteller,'' meticulously researched and admirably written by N.Y.U. English professor Miller (Melville: A Biography, 1975). Born in 1804, Hawthorne belonged to the same generation as Poe, Melville, and Whitman--that is, the first generation of US writers who sought to endow their work with an explicitly American tone and sensibility. The son of a sea captain, with family roots in Massachusetts reaching back to the early 17th century, Hawthorne was raised amid the bleak certitudes of Calvinist New England, a world as self-contained and harsh as the rocky coast of his native Salem. Introspective and melancholy as a child, he grew up an intensely secretive and reclusive man, distant from all but his wife and few close friends. Miller is prescient enough to discern the Byronic qualities of Hawthorne--the restless awkwardness, the childish solitude typical of fatherless sons--that set him apart from most of his New England contemporaries (Emerson, for example, or Longfellow) and mark him, along with Poe, as one of the few genuine Romantics ever seen in America. We are given a careful and accurate portrayal of Hawthorne's various incarnations: the sensitive youth, the troubled Utopian (Hawthorne spent six unhappy months at Brook Farm), the awkward suitor, the distant father, the literary and political schemer. What emerges most strongly from Miller's splendid chronicle is the degree to which Hawthorne's own development coincided with the birth of America's literary culture. The best, and most thorough, biography yet of Hawthorne, setting the standard against which all others will be measured. (Inclusive and up-to-date annotations and bibliography; 49 photographs and nine drawings--not seen.)

Pub Date: Dec. 5th, 1991
ISBN: 0-87745-332-2
Page count: 648pp
Publisher: Univ. of Iowa
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1991