In her lecture "Hawthorne and 'the sphere of ordinary womanhood,'" Melinda Ponder
considers the relationships with women from Hawthorne's personal life that influenced his treatment of female characters in fiction.
However, once Hawthorne had married Sophia Peabody and became even closer
to her sister Elizabeth and to their friend, Margaret Fuller, he came to know
firsthand the women of Salem and Boston who were becoming the active and articulate
agents of change in women's lives for the generations to come. His portrayal
of women became increasingly complex as he knew women better and became aware
of the questions this generation of women were asking about their roles as
women. The combination of his perspectives as a husband of a creative artist,
the son who had lost his mother, and father of a daughter, culminated in his
most powerful female characters, Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter and
Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance. Hawthorne himself perceived this
change taking place in women's lives so that a woman of an older generation
could hardly grasp the new identity, outlook, and freedom of a younger woman.
Nowhere is the tension between society's restrictions on women and women's
own unlimited potential for growth clearer than in the figure of Hawthorne's
close friend Margaret Fuller. In his provocative and compelling must-read
book Hawthorne's Fuller Mystery, Thomas R. Mitchell persuasively
portrays the central role Margaret Fuller played in Hawthorne's thinking about
women and in his literary portrayal of women confronting American men and
society. A brilliant and intensely charismatic woman, Margaret Fuller, whom
Hawthorne and Sophia had met in l839, at the the time of 1842 Hawthorne's
marriage, was both an intriguing creative woman and a professional peer and
colleague for Hawthorne. She was hitting her stride in her career as "one
of the leading intellectuals and certainly the most provocative woman in America"
(Mitchell 55). She had edited the Transcendentalist journal the Dial
during its first two years, and written essay reviews of Hawthorne's Twice-Told
Tales and Grandfather's Chair for it. She then tried creative
non-fiction writing with Summer on the Lakes, 1843. Next she published her
essay on feminism, "The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men. Woman versus Women"
and then in 1844 expanded it into "Woman in the Nineteenth Century,"
the text so central to Hester's evolving philosophy in The Scarlet Letter.
As Mitchell notes, during Fuller's five-year friendship with Hawthorne, both
were struggling to become well-known professional writers able to attract
readers in the booming American literary marketplace (55-56).