While he had written many short stories before, "Fanshawe" was Nathaniel Hawthorne's first attempt at writing a novel. The novel is based on his experiences at Bowdoin College in the early 1820s and Hawthorne published the novel himself anonymously in 1828. A commercial failure, Nathaniel Hawthorne's contempt for his first novel can be seen in his efforts to destroy every copy of it. All unsold copies were burned and later all copies that were sold that could be obtained met the same fate. Twelve years after Hawthorne's death a copy was discovered and finally republished.
In an ancient though not very populous settlement, in a retired corner of one of the New England States, arise the walls of a seminary of learning, which, for the convenience of a name, shall be entitled "Harley College." This institution, though the number of its years is inconsiderable compared with the hoar antiquity of its European sisters, is not without some claims to reverence on the score of age; for an almost countless multitude of rivals, by many of which its reputation has been eclipsed, have sprung up since its foundation. At no time, indeed, during an existence of nearly a century, has it acquired a very extensive fame; and circumstances, which need not be particularized, have, of late years, involved it in a deeper obscurity. There are now few candidates for the degrees that the college is authorized to bestow. On two of its annual "Commencement Days," there has been a total deficiency of baccalaureates; and the lawyers and divines, on whom doctorates in their respective professions are gratuitously inflicted, are not accustomed to consider the distinction as an honor. Yet the sons of this seminary have always maintained their full share of reputation, in whatever paths of life they trod. Few of them, perhaps, have been deep and finished scholars; but the college has supplied—what the emergencies of the country demanded—a set of men more useful in its present state, and whose deficiency in theoretical knowledge has not been found to imply a want of practical ability.