This comprehensive study of Nathaniel Hawthorne's early writings analyzes the development of Hawthorne's work over the first twenty-five years of his career. Alison Easton studies that process in relation to current critical debates on subjectivity. By examining Hawthorne's novels, sketches, tales, letters, notebooks, reviews, and children's books up to the publication of The Scarlet Letter, Easton shows how Hawthorne tried to understand the complexities of the clash between desire (that which is unrecognized by the social order) and circumstance (the conditions under which one must live in society). The Hawthorne who emerges from this study proves to be a sophisticated theorist of subjectivity, whose project was central to his times.
The author contends that over the first half of his career Hawthorne explored, experimented, and negotiated his way toward a better model of the human subject than the ones that are usually seen as his cultural inheritance. This approach implies a complex, dialectic development in Hawthorne's work, arising from twenty-five years of accumulated experimentation and ongoing debate. Nearly all critics of Hawthorne have ignored this element of development, thus missing the complex evolution of the subject and the revealing intertextual play of meaning that is evident in everything Hawthorne wrote during this period. Easton's study is the first to supply a full chronology for the works written during these years, and the only one to consider in close detail the full and bewilderingly diverse range of his writing throughout this period and to find an overall pattern in the several stages of his intellectual and artistic enterprise.
Easton brings to scholars and students of nineteenth-century American literature a study of Hawthorne's work that is unique in both scope and perspective. The Making of the Hawthorne Subject offers a substantial and original contribution to the way we think about Hawthorne's work and the relationship of the human subject to the social order of mid-nineteenth-century America.