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About the book
  • Published: 15 January 2017
  • ISBN: 9780451530554
  • Imprint: Signet
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 752
  • RRP: $15.99

Four Classic American Novels


Formats & editions


Shining examples of American literature at its best, these four novels explore timeless themes—adventure, war, sex, and morality—through compelling narratives. An adulteress, a runaway boy, a terrified soldier, and a maltreated sailor—the heroes of these novels have become a part of popular culture. This indispensable volume includes…

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Billy Budd by Herman Melville

With an Introduction by Sandra Newman

  • Pub date: 15 January 2017
  • ISBN: 9780451530554
  • Imprint: Signet
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 752
  • RRP: $15.99

About the Authors

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Date: 2013-08-06
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on 4th July 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. One of his descendants was John Hathorne who presided over the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Hawthorne's father died when he was four years old. He was educated at Bowdoin College where he became friends with the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He published his first novel, Fanshawe in 1828 and after this his stories began to appear in periodicals. He in 1842 and he and his wife Sophia went on to have three children. He published his most famous work, The Scarlet Letter, in 1850, and in that same year he became friends with the novelist Herman Melville. Melville later dedicated Moby Dick to Hawthorne. Between 1853 and 1860 he lived in Liverpool in England while he was working as an American consul, and then in Italy, before returning to his home in Concord, Massachusetts. Nathaniel Hawthorne died on 19th May 1864.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts, the son and grandson of proud New England seafarers. He lived in genteel poverty with his widowed mother and two young sisters in a house filled with Puritan ideals and family pride in a prosperous past. His boyhood was, in most respects, pleasant and normal. In 1825 he was graduated from Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, and he returned to Salem determined to become a writer of short stories.

For the next twelve years he was plagued with unhappiness and self-doubts as he struggled to master his craft. He finally secured some small measure of success with the publication of his Twice-Told Tales (1837). His marriage to Sophia Peabody in 1842 was a happy one. The Scarlet Letter (1850), which brought him immediate recognition, was followed by The House of the Seven Gables (1851). After serving four years as the American Consul in Liverpool, England, he travelled in Italy; he returned home to Massachusetts in 1860. Depressed, weary of writing, and failing in health, he died on May 19, 1864, at Plymouth, New Hampshire.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain's real name was Sam Clemens, and he was born in 1835 in a small town on the Mississippi, one of seven children. He smoked cigars at the age of eight, and aged nine he stowed away on a steamboat. He left school at 11 and worked at a grocery store, a bookstore, a blacksmith's and a newspaper, where he was allowed to write his own stories (not all of them true). He then worked on a steamboat, where he got the name 'Mark Twain' (from the call given by the boat's pilot when their boat is in safe waters). Eventually he turned to journalism again, travelled round the world, and began writing books which became very popular. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are his most famous novels. He poured the money he earned from writing into new business ventures and crazy inventions, such as a clamp to stop babies throwing off their bed covers, a new boardgame, and a hand grenade full of extinguishing liquid to throw on a fire. With his shock of white hair and trademark white suit Mark Twain became the most famous American writer in the world. He died in 1910.

Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane (1871–1900) was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of a Methodist minister and the daughter of a Methodist bishop. 'Stevie,' their fourteenth and last child, turned from his devout roots to a young manhood of pool, poker, and baseball. Following preparatory school at Claverack College, his formal, but hardly his real, education ended with one semester at Lafayette and one at Syracuse University.

Maggie, a Girl of the Streets appeared in 1893, part of it written at Syracuse, part in New York City's Bowery. Slum life and war attracted Crane imaginatively and then literally. The Red Badge of Courage (1895) made him famous before he ever saw any fighting. Active as a reporter in the West, Mexico, Greece, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, he eventually became involved romantically, and perhaps chivalrously, with Cora Howorth Stewart (Taylor), madame of the Hotel de Dream in Jacksonville, Florida.

Crane penultimately settled down with Cora Howorth Stewart (Taylor) in England in 1899, writing energetically to pay debts and alternately enjoying and feeling plagued by the company of visiting writers, among them Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and H. G. Wells.

He died on June 5, 1900, in Badenweiler, Germany, where he and Cora had sought relief for his tuberculosis. After his death Cora returned to her former profession in Jacksonville, opening a new house modelled, so the legend goes, along the lines of Brede Place, the medieval pile they had occupied in England.

Two volumes of poetry, The Black Riders and Other Lines (1895) and War Is Kind (1899); several volumes of later fiction, including some of his very best as well as some hasty and sentimental work; and an unfinished romance, The O'Ruddy (published in 1903 as completed by Robert Barr), form part of the ten-volume Works, edited by Fredson Bowers and published (1969–75) by the University Press of Virginia.

Herman Melville

Herman Melville was born on August 1, 1819, in New York City, the son of a merchant. Only twelve when his father died bankrupt, young Herman tried work as a bank clerk, as a cabin-boy on a trip to Liverpool, and as an elementary schoolteacher, before shipping in January 1841 on the whaler Acushnet, bound for the Pacific. Deserting ship the following year in the Marquesas, he made his way to Tahiti and Honolulu, returning as ordinary seaman on the frigate United States to Boston, where he was discharged in October 1844. Books based on these adventures won him immediate success. By 1850 he was married, had acquired a farm near Pittsfield, Massachussetts (where he was the impetuous friend and neighbor of Nathaniel Hawthorne), and was hard at work on his masterpiece Moby-Dick.

Literary success soon faded; his complexity increasingly alienated readers. After a visit to the Holy Land in January 1857, he turned from writing prose fiction to poetry. In 1863, during the Civil War, he moved back to New York City, where from 1866-1885 he was a deputy inspector in the Custom House, and where, in 1891, he died. A draft of a final prose work, Billy Budd, Sailor, was left unfinished and uncollated, packed tidily away by his widow, where it remained until its rediscovery and publication in 1924.


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