Authors of Lasting Fame
By Elaine Ernst Schneider
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts. The Puritan overtones of his novel Scarlet Letter are no accident, as Hawthorne was descended from Puritan ancestors. When Nathaniel’s father, a ship captain, died on a voyage, Nathaniel’s mother moved the family to Maine where her brothers lived. Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he was a classmate of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. After graduation, Hawthorne returned to Salem with hopes of becoming a writer. His first writing attempts were short stories. Although these stories met with some popularity, they were not financially successful. Hawthorne took a job in a customs house to pay his living expenses.
A collection of Hawthorne’s short stories was published in 1837 under the name of Twice-told Tales. This was followed by Mosses from an Old Manse. But it was not until 1850 that Hawthorne gained recognition as a noteworthy author and a master of allegorical tales. With The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne’s genius for symbolism and his Puritan heritage proved to be a winning combination. While The Scarlet Letter received tremendous acceptance, Hawthorne feared that it was a bit dismal and vowed to write a happier novel for his next work. In 1851, Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables was published. Gable’s plot celebrated the power of love over a family curse. The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables were Hawthorne’s most famous works.
Poor health plagued Hawthorne the last several years of his life. His hair turned suddenly white and he suffered frequent nosebleeds. Nathaniel Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864.
English-born Charlotte Bronte came into the world one of a literary threesome. The sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were all writers. Even as small children, they fashioned stories and poems for one another, sometimes writing the tiniest of novelettes on scraps of paper. The three sat at the table, reading one another’s work aloud – poetry, short stories, and eventually, novels. Because writing was not considered an acceptable avenue of employment for English women of their day, the sisters published under the pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, using only the initial letters of each of their first names. It was several years before their true identities were revealed.
Many of the Brontes’ settings were spin-offs of their experiences. The English moors that surrounded them in Yorkshire were the inspiration for the scenery described in Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. Both Emily and Charlotte had attended a girls’ school so severe that it cost their family the lives of two older sisters. Jane Eyre’s Lowood School was patterned after the school’s harsh environment. Charlotte served as a governess, another life experience she called upon in writing Jane Eyre.
In 1847, the Bronte sisters each sent a novel to a London publisher. Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey were accepted. Charlotte’s submission, a book entitled The Professor, was rejected. While Emily and Anne’s books were enjoying modest success, Charlotte finished another book she had been working on – Jane Eyre. This time, her book was not rejected. In fact, it took the country by storm. Charlotte’s book unveiled a strong and stubborn woman – Jane – who stood firm against the socially accepted traditions of the time and not only survived, but flourished. As might be expected, the successes of the three sisters stirred interest in the poems of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell and their true names were unveiled.
After almost instantaneous success, one would think that the Brontes’ futures looked bright. But tragedy struck. Both Emily and Anne died from tuberculosis within the year. Charlotte only remained. And indeed – just as the character Jane Eyre that was her creation – Charlotte survived. In 1849, Charlotte published Shirley, followed by Villette in 1853. Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nichols in 1854 and died from complications of pregnancy in 1855.
Edna Ferber was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (Yes, there really is a place named Kalamazoo!) The Ferbers ran a general store. When Edna’s father began to lose his sight, her mother took over the family business, showing her young daughter what it meant to persevere as an independent businesswoman. Edna called upon this memory of her mother for several of her most famous characters.
Edna began her writing career as a newspaper reporter. From there, short stories became her genre of writing. These short stories were quite popular – especially those about a character named Mrs. Emma McChesney – and Edna was urged to pen a novel. This she did in 1911, writing Dawn O’Hara. Shortly after, the Emma stories were turned into a play entitled “Our Mrs. McChesney.” Two more novels followed. They were Fanny Herself and The Girls.
But it was So Big that hit the “big time,” winning Edna Ferber the coveted Pulitzer Prize. While Ferber worked on her novels, she continued creating short stories with interesting and unusual characters as heroes. One such character was “Old Man Minick.” Collaborating with playwright George S. Kaufman, Edna adapted the story for the stage. This was only the beginning of Ferber-and-the-stage. When her novel Showboat proved to be even more popular than So Big, Edna found herself in New York, adapting Showboat for a Broadway musical. Ferber’s novel Giant reached still a different media, as a film version of the book collected seven Academy Award nominations.
Ferber was an American writer who chose American settings. She studied regions and history to weave reality into her plots. The New York Times called Ferber’s books “vivid.” Indeed they were.
Edna Ferber died on April 16, 1968.
You may purchase the most famous of these authors’ books by clicking on the appropriate icons on the left of this page. The links will take you directly to the Amazon ordering information for each specific book.
Write a letter of introduction as if you are Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charlotte Bronte, or Edna Ferber. The letter should tell interesting information that would make whichever author you choose a candidate for membership in the “Most Famous Authors of All Time Club.” You may wish to do additional research so that you can include facts that make your letter believable. Start your letter:
Hi. My name is Nathaniel Hawthorne and …
I am Charlotte Bronte. My sisters asked me to inquire about …
Hello. I’m Edna Ferber.