Read by David Shaw-Parker, Mark Rice-Oxley & Richard Mitchley (Unabridged: 51mins)
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on 4th July 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, a town synonymous with the earlier Salem Witch Trials. It was instrumental in Hawthorne’s later use of American Gothic and dark romanticism in his writing.
He was a mere four years old when his father died and his mother took him and his two sisters to live with her family and then on to their own home in Raymond, Maine. The young Hawthorne had a passion for fiction and poetry and voraciously read the works of Ann Radcliffe, Henry Fielding and Lord Byron.
He was sent to college at his maternal uncle’s insistence. During these years he met and befriended Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and future U S president Franklin Pierce. These friendships were lifelong and to have a crucial impact on his writings and career.
At college Hawthorne had made attempts at writing short stories and essays but without opportunities to publish. It was only in 1828 that he finally published his novel ‘Franshawe’ to little success and so he began work as editor for the American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge.
Hawthorne’s short stories were first published in magazines but in 1837 were collected and published as ‘Twice-Told Tales’. A steady literary career still did not come his way and so he worked in a good position at Salem’s port and married the love of his life Sophia Peabody. They moved to live in ‘The Old Manse’ at Concord, Massachusetts.
Finally. in 1850 came spectacular literary and commercial success with ‘The Scarlet Letter’ followed by ‘The House of the Seven Gables’ the following year.
In 1852, Hawthorne published a biography of presidential candidate Franklin Pierce. After Pierce’s victory he was appointed consul in Liverpool, a position that offered prestige, money and fame. At the end of this appointment he returned several times to Europe before settling in Massachusetts and resuming writing and publication.
During the early 1860’s his health declined and on 19th May 1864 during a trip to Plymouth, New Hampshire. He was 59 and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts.
The Birthmark is a classic tale from Hawthorne’s pen. Georgina has a small red birthmark on her cheek. Her husband, a brilliant scientist and philosopher becomes obsessed with what he thinks is this blemish on her beauty.