Happy Birthday to Nathaniel Hawthorne!

Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1840 (source)

Happy Birthday to Nathaniel Hawthorne who was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. He’s been on my mind for months because Emily and I have been working on a Book Cougars podcast project that just kicked off: SCARLET SUMMER, a three-month reading event.

The idea for Scarlet Summer was sparked by two things. First, the announcement of Alice Hoffman’s forthcoming novel, The Invisible Hour (pub date 8/15), whose protagonist is saved by The Scarlet Letter. Hoffman was deeply influenced by Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Her new novel won’t be the first of her writings to give a nod (or more) to this classic. Second, we have fond memories of our Summer of Little Women in 2018 when we read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, March by Geraldine Brooks, and the book that sparked that idea, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux. Like that old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercial, our brains had a tasty literary mashup.

The first time I read The Scarlet Letter was almost 30 years ago. I was in graduate school and ill with fever. I picked it up that day to fill its gap in my 19th century reading and enjoyed it much more than anticipated. Somehow I had escaped reading it in high school, which apparently was not an enjoyable experience for many.

Upon talking with a mentor about the novel and what in its pages sparked my interest, he recommended several of Hawthorne’s short stories. I fell in love. Some of his stories such as “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Birth-mark” are among my favorites of the form. I also enjoyed reading Hawthorne’s notebooks. His novel The Blithedale Romance is a favorite.

“Damned mob of scribbling women”

Hawthorne’s reputation was tarnished in recent decades due, in part, to the unearthing of the infamous letter to his publisher where he complains about the “damned mob of scribbling women” whose “trash” was allegedly glutting the market, interfering with his success. Blaming a particular group for one’s own lack of success–how original. And dangerous.

I’m currently re-reading The Scarlet Letter and so far so good. [Not a very smooth transition from the paragraph above, but I am trying to keep this post short.] I remember how the book made me feel during that first reading, but don’t recall many details, so it seems like reading it for the first time. Almost. And let’s not forget the fevered state I was in the first time around, which may have influenced my feelings.

Discussion of The Scarlet Letter

On Wednesday, July 12th at 4:30 pm ET, the Book Cougars are hosting a discussion of The Scarlet Letter at the Concord Free Public Library in Concord, Massachusetts. If you’re in the area, we would love for you to join us! We’re also offering a Zoom option for those in other places. (Let me know if you’re interested in joining us either in person or via zoom.)

Earlier that day, we’ll pay our respects at Sleep Hollow Cemetery where Hawthorne slumbers eternally near Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau. We also hope to visit his home(s) in town and also have a browse at The Concord Bookshop.

To learn more about the Book Cougars’s SCARLET SUMMER and the other books we’ll be reading and Biblio Adventures in the works for August, click here or listen to Episode 183 (fast forward to 54:54).

Have you read The Scarlet Letter or other works by Hawthorne?


  1. I haven’t read The Scarlet Letter but now I’m interested! I did read The House of the 7 Gables, would you say it was better?

    • Hi, Jane. I have not _really_ read The House of the Seven Gables. I’ve started it several times but don’t think I’ve ever finished it. Did you enjoy/appreciate it? I do want to give it another go soon!

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