“The Minister’s Black Veil” – Poverty in the Tale and in the Life of the Author
Henry Seidel Canby in “A Skeptic Incompatible with His Time and His Past” mentions of Hawthorne that “human failures and their causes were more interesting to him than prophecies of success, one might truly say than success itself. …He was not, I think, really interested in escape, except in moods of financial discouragement. . . . (57). Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” embodies traits of the modest lifestyle which the author had to subject himself to because of inadequate finances through most of his life. In addition to the monetary impoverishment there was an additional artistic impoverishment which sorely restricted the materials from which he could choose for his literary works.
Hawthorne’s impoverishment probably began with the untimely death of his father, and continued until 1857. He had no money for a college education. Gloria C. Erlich in “The Divided Artist and His Uncles” states that “Robert Manning made the essential decisions in the lives of the Hawthorne children and is well known as the uncle who sent Hawthorne to college” (35). After graduation from Bowdoin College Hawthorne spent twelve years in his room at home in an intense effort to make something of himself literarily. The Norton Anthology: American Literature states:
Hawthorne’s years between 1825 and 1837 have fascinated his biographers and critics. Hawthorne himself took pains to propagate the notion that he had lived as a hermit who left his upstairs room only for nighttime walks and hardly communicated even with his mother and sisters (547).
Sculley Bradley, Richmond Croom Beatty and E. Hudson Long in “The Social Criticism of a Public Man” consider his poverty a determining influence in his life: “…a young man engrossed in historical study and in learning the writer’s craft is not notably queer if he does not seek society or marriage, especially if he is poor” (47-48). Fame was slow in coming for the author, likewise prosperity. Clarice Swisher in “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography” explains in great detail the unfortunate financial uncertainty which he survived due to help from a friend:
But when His second set of tales was ready for publication, again Hawthorne could find no one to publish them as a collection. He sent them to Samuel G. Goodrich, the editor of Token, an annual gift book, but Goodrich was interested only in individual stories. Goodrich published one story in 1831, and in 1832 he published “The Gentle Boy” (for which he paid Hawthorne thirty –five dollars) and three others. . . . Though he was getting his work published, Hawthorne complained to Horatio Bridge in 1836 that he could earn no more than three hundred dollars a year by writing stories for magazines and annual gift books. A third collection of tales organized as a collection, The Story Teller, had also failed to win acceptance from a...