The Scarlet Letter
By Nathaniel Hawthorne
(Everyman's Library, Hardcover, 9780679417316, 312pp.)
Publication Date: November 3, 1992
Enter your zip code below to find indies closest to you.
Hester Prynne is a beautiful young woman. She is also an outcast. In the eyes of her neighbours she has committed an unforgivable sin. Everyone knows that her little daughter Pearl is the product of an illicit affair but no one knows the identity of Pearl’s father. Hester’s refusal to name him brings more condemnation upon her. But she stands strong in the face of public scorn, even when she is forced to wear the sign of her shame sewn onto her clothes: the scarlet letter “A” for “Adulteress.”
The story of Hester Prynne–found out in adultery, pilloried by her Puritan community, and abandoned, in different ways, by both her partner in sin and her vengeance-seeking husband–possesses a reality heightened by Hawthorne’s pure human sympathy and his unmixed devotion to his supposedly fallen but fundamentally innocent heroine.
In its moral force and the beauty of its conciliations, The Scarlet Letter rightly deserves its stature as the first great novel written by an American, the novel that announced an American literature equal to any in the world.
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was born in Salem, Massachusetts, and made his ambition to be a writer while still a teenager. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, where the poet Longfellow was also a student, and spent several years travelling in New England and writing short stories before his best-known novel The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850. His writing was not at first financially rewarding and he worked as measurer and surveyor in the Boston and Salem Custom Houses. In 1853 he was sent to Liverpool as American consul and then lived in Italy before returning to the US in 1860, where he died in his sleep four years later.
His interest in Greek mythology led him to suggest to Longfellow in 1838 that they collaborate on a story for children based on the legend of Pandora's Box, but this never materialized. He wrote A Wonder-Book between April and July 1851, adapting six legends most freely from Charles Anton's A Classical Dictionary (1842). He set out deliberately to 'modernize' the stories, freeing them from what he called 'cold moonshine' and using a romantic, readable style that was criticized by adults but proved universally popular with children.
“[The Scarlet Letter’s] Hester was the creation of someone who loved Woman, saw her, as Verdi did, as necessarily tragic and alone, but emotionally sacred in a diminished world . . . Hester is the only character in the book big enough to sustain a conflict–with the harsh Puritan world–equal to Hawthorne’s own. In a book without heroes, Hester is a unique literary heroine.” –from the Introduction by Alfred Kazin