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Scarlet Letter (Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Vol 1)

Scarlet Letter (Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Vol 1) by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Summary

Novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1850. It is considered a masterpiece of American literature and a classic moral study. The novel is set in a village in Puritan New England. The main character is Hester Prynne, a young woman who has borne an illegitimate child. Hester believes herself a widow, but her husband, Roger Chillingworth, returns to New England very much alive and conceals his identity. He finds his wife forced to wear the scarlet letter A on her dress as punishment for her adultery. Chillingworth becomes obsessed with finding the identity of his wife's former lover. When he learns that the father of Hester's child is Arthur Dimmesdale, a saintly young minister who is the leader of those exhorting her to name the child's father, Chillingworth proceeds to torment the guilt-stricken young man. In the end Chillingworth is morally degraded by his monomaniacal pursuit of revenge; Dimmesdale is broken by his own sense of guilt, and he publicly confesses his adultery before dying in Hester's arms. Only Hester can face the future bravely, as she plans to take her daughter Pearl to Europe to begin a new life. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Contemporary and Early Reviews

Review from the July 1850 issue of The North American Review

Review of an illustrated edition of The Scarlet Letter from December 1877 issue of The Atlantic Monthly

Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter has been well translated into French, and is duly admired by the Gallic public.  The Revue des Deux Mondes says that it is an excellent selection to initiate French readers in the style of the author as a thinker and romance writer, and that he treats his subject with manly boldness and touching dramatic power.--Excerpt of a review of French Literature from the May 1853 issue of Putnam's Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art.

Review from the April 1886 issue of The Atlantic Monthly

Survey of late nineteenth century literature influenced by The Scarlet Letter

Reviews

5 out of 5 stars "The Scarlet Letter", September 6, 2000

By D. Bass (North Carolina) (REAL NAME)    

This review is from: The Scarlet Letter (Bantam Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)

Like many reviewers here, I was "forced" to read this book for my English Composition class. However, unlike many reviewers here, I have a much different view of the story. As some people have said before, Hawthorne's book takes a good deal of concentration, effort, and strength to understand. Not only to understand, but to finish. The story can drag sometimes, it is true, and Hawthorne's style of writing occasionally leaves something to be desired (I don't think I've ever seen that many commas, 15 letter words, or page long paragraphs before), but we simply must look past these minor issues. Overall, the plot is highly creative and intense, despite the writing.\

Ok, ok, I agree that the first chapter, "The Custom-House", was pretty bad. In fact, it was so bad and boring that I drifted off to sleep several times while reading it! The first chapter has little relevancy with the story, so, unless you have to, I would suggest skipping that part of the text. The rest is exceptionally good, and the quality of the plot cannot be overlooked. My advice is to just lay off the first chapter; that way you'll be able to enjoy the rest of the book without difficulty.

The story itself deals with sin and adultery, a subject that isn't very popular right now. Hawthorne does an excellent job of telling us about this, but he leaves the reader with many questions floating around in his mind at the conclusion. At the end of the story you're not 100% sure if Hawthorne was condemning the Puritan society, or if he was commending it. He leaves that for the reader to figure out, which is a thing authors seldom do. That's a major reason I believe this work is so unique and timeless.

The story involves a women named Hester Prynne, living in the New World in the late 17th century. She has committed adultery with someone unknown, and, since the Puritan society considered the Bible to be their ultimate source of law, the punishment was quite severe for such an act. Hester is forced to wear a scarlet "A" (for adultery) on her attire at all times, as a sign to everyone that she has sinned deeply. And so she must carry out the rest of her life this way. That's the major gist of the plot, although there's much more. I won't give it anyway, though, you'll have to read the book to find out.

Let's face it: at some time or another we all are going to probably have to read this book, voluntarily or involuntarily. Shouldn't we try to make the best of it? Read it for its enjoyment, anything else would be missing the point.

5 out of 5 stars Excellent Read, February 12, 2000

By "rethie" (Alabama, USA)

This review is from: Scarlet Letter (Library Binding)

I enjoyed reading The Scarlet Letter. I was not forced into by a Literature teacher; I picked it up on my own because I heard it was a great American classic; and, indeed, I have to agree. It is truly timeless. It has been almost five years since I have read this book and I can remember the scenes and words so vividly. Hawthorne's dizzying imagery provides an adventure into the life of a Puritan woman, Hester Prynne, that one does not soon forget.

Hester, practically abandoned by her husband is left to take care of herself in a lonely new world. She is flesh and bone with desires and passions like any other human being. Hester commits adultery and is found out by a cruel, judging community. She must wear a Scarlet A on the front of her dress; A for Adultery. Hester refuses to give the name of her lover Dimmesdale so he goes free and untouched by the damning society, but must face the tortures of his own conscience.

Hester is humiliated and must suffer the consequences for her actions but she is not a broken woman. She stands, brave.

Dimmesdale comes through in the end and admits his role in the dangerous game. Hawthorne takes the readers on a spinning ride to get to this point. Read it and know the exact ending for yourself. I recommend it; highly.

5 out of 5 stars An intense human drama that transcends literature itself, December 21, 2002

By Daniel Jolley "darkgenius" (Shelby, North Carolina USA) (TOP 50 REVIEWER) (REAL NAME)       

This review is from: The Scarlet Letter (Signet Classics) (Paperback)

The Scarlet Letter is truly one of literature's greatest triumphs, its characters and themes reverberating in our collective consciousness more than 150 years after its initial publication. Few novels inspire as much contemplation and feeling on the part of the reader. Hester Prynne, American fiction's first and foremost female heroine continues to haunt this world, inspiring a never-ending stream of scholarly debate. Even in our less puritanical age, some doubtless see her as a villainously great temptress, but to me she is a remarkably brave hero indeed. Her sin is known to all, and she never runs away from it, bearing the scarlet letter on her bosom bravely for all to see; she realizes the true measure of that sin, fretting constantly over the effects it will have on young Pearl, remaining steadfast in her beliefs while at the same time envisioning a new society where women and men can exist on more equal terms, free of the stultifyingly harsh punishments meted out on even the most repentant of souls by Puritanism. She shows her noble spirit by refusing to name her partner in sin and goes so far as to allow the ruthless Roger Chillingworth to torment the man she loves deeply enough to protect him for all time. Little Pearl is somewhat of an enigma, truly manifesting traits of both the imp and the little angel; her questions about the letter her mother wears and the minister who continually holds his hand against his heart reflect an insight that amazes this reader. Chillingworth is a thoroughly black-hearted man; I can certainly understand the blow he sustained as a result of Hester's sin, but his actions and thirst for prolonged revenge on the so-called perpetrator of the wrong he suffered can only be described as roguish and unpalatable.

Of course, the most complex character in the novel (and literature as a whole) is the good minister Arthur Dimmsdale. One is compelled to both like him and despise him. He is basically a good man and an unquestionably fine soldier in the army of the Lord, winning many souls to God with his impassioned sermons. He is more aware than anyone else of his sinful nature, and he punishes himself quite brutally in private in a useless attempt to make up for the public ignominy he lacks the moral courage to call upon himself with a public profession of his deed. Dimmsdale is a coward and a hypocrite. At one critical moment in the latter pages of the novel, he blames Hester for his state of misery, and it is that comment in particular that makes this tragic character a man I can only commiserate with to a limited degree. Even at the penultimate moment of the novel, as he finally bears the mark of his shame and guilt for all his parishioners to see, the very men and women who have viewed him as a saintly man of God rather than the brigand he knows himself to be, he does not openly confess-his words and deeds do make plain the secret of his heart, but it is his lack of a thoroughly bold confession that causes some of his most devoted followers, so Hawthorne tells us, to blindly judge his final act as an illustrative parable on the danger of sin threatening each member of his congregation rather than an admission of guilt and self-condemnation.

It upsets me to see readers who do not appreciate this novel as one of the earliest and best American classics, a novel that contributed greatly to the establishment of a literary culture in the young country. The language is of a more florid style than today's readers are used to, but this novel is in no way boring. Hawthorne paints some of the most vivid scenes of human drama I have ever witnessed; he writes in such a way that you are there in colonial Boston watching the story play out before your very eyes, struggling to come to terms with your own feelings in regard to such complex and sometimes inscrutable characters. The climactic chapter is truly and deeply moving, more than capable of bringing tears to the eyes of the sensitive soul. The Scarlet Letter is just a brilliant, gripping, thoroughly human novel that I wish everyone could appreciate as much as I do.


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