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On Hawthorne's life in Europe from 1853-60

On Hawthorne's life in Europe from 1853-60, from "Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne" in Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne by Melissa McFarland Pennell, pp. 7-8 (courtesy of Greenwood Press)

"…Following Pierce's victory in the presidential elections [in 1852], Hawthorne was rewarded with an appointment in 1853 as American consul at Liverpool, England.

Hawthorne served as consul at Liverpool until October 1857. Liverpool in the 1850s was one of the busiest ports in Europe, and Hawthorne hoped his position there would allow him to earn enough money to permit a tour of the Continent before returning home. He also hoped to save a substantial amount so that his family would enjoy economic stability when his government appointment ended. During this period, he wrote little for publication but kept notebooks in which he recorded scenes of English life. He also learned more about the experiences of sailors serving on commercial vessels and wrote letters recommending reforms in the U.S. Merchant Marine. In October 1855 Sophia, with Una and Rose, traveled to Lisbon for the winter, a trip occasioned by Sophia's bouts of ill health. She remained there until the following June, leaving Julian in her husband's care. Sophia found the separation from her husband difficult, since the death of her own parents had made her feel more dependent upon him emotionally. The stress of their life abroad made certain strains in their marriage more evident, although the Hawthornes did not acknowledge their difficulties to outsiders, nor directly to themselves.

When Pierce did not win renomination in 1856, Hawthorne realized his consular appointment would end. He submitted his resignation to the new president, James Buchanan. The Hawthornes remained in England through 1857 and in January 1858 traveled to France, then Italy. The family settled in Rome, where Sophia explored the churches and galleries. While there, Hawthorne again recorded in notebooks his impressions of life and of the expatriates, writers, and artists that he encountered. While in Italy, he saw the American poet William Cullen Bryant, the English poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the American sculptor William Wetmore Story. He also visited with lesser-known artists, including Cephas Thompson. Harriet Hosmer, and Hiram Powers. Like his wife, Hawthorne took advantage of the artistic and architectural riches that surrounded him, visiting museums, churches, and even the catacombs. Although he was often moved by the art he encountered, he expressed his reservations about the degree of nudity that prevailed in painting and in sculpture. His New England reserve and the lack of early exposure to the traditions of European art clearly influenced his responses. While exploring Rome and the Italian countryside, Hawthorne began work on another romance, published in America as The Marble Faun: Or, The Romance of Monte Beni (1860), that makes use of the Italian scene. Though Hawthorne enjoyed his surroundings, his family was unsettled by daughter Una's bout with malaria, which lasted for about six months and left her permanently afflicted.

On the eve of the Civil War, after another sojourn in England, Hawthorne returned to America, meeting on his voyage Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose novel Uncle Tom's Cabin had aided the abolitionist cause. Hawthorne did not seek out Mrs. Stowe's company, but his wife found she shared Mrs. Stowe's interest in spiritualism and other popular issues of the day. The Hawthornes returned to The Wayside, in Concord, where Hawthorne attempted to work on various romances, none of which he was able to complete…" (7-8).

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