[Hawthorne peruses the newspaper at the Surveyor's desk in the Custom House]

TEXT DESCRIPTION: Hawthorne in the Custom House. Our author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, is seen at work in the Custom House in Salem, on one of those long days before he was fired and had to write this novel to support his family. He sits on a stool with his right elbow on the Surveyor's desk, while he holds a newspaper before him as if he is studying the shipping news or political affairs in Washington. A few sheets of paper are on the desk as if he had been writing, but his relaxed pose with his back to the window and the desk indicates otherwise, and suggests instead the lazy atmosphere he depicted in the introduction to the novel. The pages are probably completely blank at this time. Several official-looking books are piled on top of the shelf of the desk, which is a high one to be used with a stool, and which has a slanted writing surface probably hinged so as to store papers beneath. Atop the books is a black top-hat, while beneath the shelf on the desk is an inkwell and quill pen. A notice with the headline BRISTOL is stuck on the wall behind him--Bristol was a major port in England for New England shipping. Hawthorne looks alert and intense. His graying hair is long on either side of a high forehead, his dark eyebrows shade his eyes, and he has a dark brown mustache that intensifies his expression. His neck is hidden behind a high collar and dark bow tie; over it he wears a dark brown long suitcoat with a black collar, and he wears a vest and light-colored trousers. A long overcoat hangs on the wall. Through the window we can see the masts of several ships, probably unusual for Salem. On the floor is what is probably a spitoon but which possibly was used as a wastebasket. One side-chair in front on the overcoat might be one of those that was lined up for the customs officers to lean back against the hall walls and take long naps on after lunch, while Hawthorne threw down his newspaper and paced the floor thinking about his novel.

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Illustration is by Hugh Thomson, from an edition of The Scarlet Letter by George H. Doran, Company, New York, printed by Morrison and Gibb Limited, Edinburgh, no date or copyright notice. The color illustrations are tipped in, approximately the size of this screen rendering. Note that the JPEG file here is at 150 dpi, it has been electronically enhanced to add saturation to the faded colors of the print edition, at 75% compression it loses a little content, and the image has been artificially blurred so as to make the dots of the printing process fuse in the screen image.

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URL: http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/nh/slht02.html
Last updated: Tue Sep 14 21:10:04 EDT 1999
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