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Hawthorne even briefly flirted with Utopianism. He joined Brook Farm, a community near Boston, in the hopes that a life in the open air, in communion with other writers, would be congenial to him. But milking cows and raking manure proved too much for Hawthorne. He left after a year to resume a private writing career.
Hawthorne made other attempts to put himself in touch with the currents of his time. At the age of 35, he sought-of all things-a political appointment. Hawthorne went to work in the Salem Custom House, where his nose was really rubbed in the grimy details of trade.
There was a good reason for that particular choice. Hawthorne had met his future wife, Sophia Peabody, and he needed money to marry on. He was never a best-selling author, and a lack of funds was a problem he would wrestle with all his life.
The question of money would rear its ugly head again in 1846 when Hawthorne, now a husband and a father, returned to the Salem Custom House as Surveyor. He spent three mildly discontented years there, to be thrown out in 1849 when a Whig victory ended the Democrats' reign. (Hawthorne was a member of the Democratic party.)
Hawthorne was bitter at such high-handed treatment. But his dismissal from the Custom House proved a blessing in disguise. He was free to write again. Indeed, he had to write in order to keep a roof over his head. He set immediately to work and produced The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850.
Perhaps the novel served as a kind of creative trigger, for the famous works now followed quickly, one on the heels of another: The House of the Seven Gables in 1851, and The Blithedale Romance in 1852.
We can talk about the later events of Hawthorne's life: the birth of more children, a consulship to England, the publication of The Marble Faun in 1860. And yet, if we do, we will get no closer to the man. Hawthorne lived a decent, middle-class, intellectual sort of life. He wrote, he served his country in minor capacities, he had children, he worked to support them. And yet, there was something he held back, a part of himself he showed only to the four walls of his room.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was a man, for instance, who married a genteel, delicate woman, a woman to whom love meant the sweet sound of violins. But the creator of Hester Prynne knew a different side of things; knew just as surely as he lived that there were dark, erotic temptresses out there with eyes a man could drown in.