Just about every U.S. high school student is introduced to American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) when they are assigned to read The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850. But what most students don’t know is that Hawthorne adopted a very isolated, structured, and monotonous daily ritual which was ideal for him to deeply ponder the essence of humanity and explore the thought-provoking issues of evil and sin. And they probably are not aware of this fun fact about this reclusive author: Hawthorne was a chocoholic! We get a glimpse of Hawthorne’s daily ritual from legendary literary critic Malcolm Cowley’s introduction in The Portable Hawthorne (1969):
“As the years passed he fell into a daily routine that seldom varied during autumn or winter. Each morning he wrote or read until it was time for the midday dinner; each afternoon he read or wrote or dreamed or merely stared at a sunbeam boring in through a hole in the blind and very slowly moving across the opposite wall. At sunset he went for a long walk, from which he returned late in the evening to eat a bowl of chocolate crumbed thick with bread and then talk about books with his two adoring sisters, Elizabeth and Louisa, both of whom were already marked for spinsterhood; these were almost the only household meetings…
In summer Hawthorne’s routine was more varied; he went for an early-morning swim among the rocks and often spent the day wandering alone by the shore, so idly that he amused himself by standing on a cliff and throwing stones at his shadow. Once, apparently, he stationed himself on the long toll-bridge north of Salem and watched the procession of travelers from morning to night. He never went to church, but on Sunday mornings he liked to stand behind the curtain of his open window and watch the congregation assemble.”
In 1842, Hawthorne (then 38 years old) married Sophia Peabody. She was just as reclusive as Hawthorne which allowed him to keep to his daily routine relatively unchanged. Just as he did during his single days, Hawthorne would stay in his study until dinner time — which for him was 2:00 pm (and you thought elderly people who eat dinner at 5:00 pm was strange!) — and Sophia would join him for dinner. An hour later, he would walk alone to the village to visit the post office and the library. Before the sun set, he would return home and then take a short walk with Sophia to a river located near their home in Concord. Then they would return home, have tea together, and read aloud to one another for a few hours each evening. Now close your eyes for a moment and picture that scene: a middle-aged married couple, sitting by the fireplace reading stories and poems to one another. Could anything be sweeter or more romantic than that?
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For further reading: Daily Rituals by Mason Currey (2013)