Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter (original 1850; edition 1850)

by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas E. Connolly (Notes), Nina Baym (Introduction)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
22,85724752 (3.39)1 / 697
Title:The Scarlet Letter
Authors:Nathaniel Hawthorne
Other authors:Thomas E. Connolly (Notes), Nina Baym (Introduction)
Info:Penguin Classics (2003), Trade Paperback
Tags:unreviewed, New England

Work details

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

  1. 132
    The Crucible by Arthur Miller (SandSing7, Morteana)
  2. 102
    The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (chrisharpe)
  3. 30
    Elective Affinities by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (LCBrooks)
    LCBrooks: Allows for interesting comparisons on the subject of double marriage.
  4. 20
    Too Late The Phalarope by Alan Paton (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Sex and guilt in Calvinist cultures.
  5. 21
    The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (chrisharpe, kxlly)
  6. 10
    Elsie Venner A Romance of Destiny, Part One by Oliver Wendell Holmes (Midnightdreary)
    Midnightdreary: Similar exploration of the question of sin, inherited or otherwise.
Read (39)
Romans (13)
Unread books (1,060)

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

English (239)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All languages (249)
Showing 1-5 of 239 (next | show all)
When it came time to read the Scarlet Letter in high school, our teacher verbalized her distaste, and instead opted for Mark Twain's the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Now, having read Hawthorne's American classic ten years on, I have zero understanding of how or why this book became a stereotype of high school reading lists. No teenager in their right mind would connect to this story, or, most especially, Hawthorne's dense, repetitive, philosophical prose. I'm glad I had the chance to choose the time and place to read it, as I feel that directly contributed to my enjoyment at 27 rather than loathing at 17.

The story shouldn't need a lengthy introduction: Hester Prynne is condemned to wear a scarlet letter A upon her breast, meant to showcase, along with a newborn babe named Pearl, her sin of adultery to the public until she's laid to rest. At the very moment of her condemnation, her missing husband returns, and hides under the name Roger Chillingworth in order to root out and have his revenge upon the man responsible for Hester's sins -- Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale.

I was both addicted to and bored by the florid repetition of our heroes' spiraling sins. I was surprised by how little issues I had keeping pace with the story, yet also felt whole paragraphs go by with no attention given on my part. The increasingly Gothic foreboding that took over the plot as Prynne and Dimmesdale's Pearl grew up gave us some supernaturally-fantastic scenes. Pearl's unforgettable elfin tricks by the bubbling brook of the Black Man's forest still creeped me out 166 years after publication.

I do feel like Hester Prynne is not the star of the novel -- nor a good example of a developed, realistic, or ahead-of-its-time woman in literature (I shudder to use the term 'strong female character' here): see Acker's Blood and Guts in High School for a fun, transgressive deconstruction of Prynne et al. -- but a lens through which Hawthorne could explore the characters of Rev. Dimmesdale and Chillingworth with far more complexity. Prynne's character can barely be said to evolve; rather, she chooses the direction of her punishment early on, and that decision then provides the necessary vehicle for Rev. Dimmesdale's more involved and painful narrative. She even apologizes to the Reverend over the silent guilt he's felt, which was evidently her fault.

Given that fiction is still dominated by literary dicks like Philip Roth's or Jonathan Franzen's in 2016, it's understandable that Hawthorne wouldn't be able to undermine the patriarchal grip he contributed to in 1850, much less in a story set 200 years earlier. I'd argue that recognizing this hurts Scarlet Letter's required-reading value, but not historical or literary value.

## Hester Prynne was now fully sensible of the deep injury for which she was responsible to this unhappy man, in permitting him to lie for so many years, or, indeed, for a single moment, at the mercy of one whose purposes could not be other than malevolent.
## [...] “Oh, Arthur!” cried she, “forgive me! In all things else, I have striven to be true! Truth was the one virtue which I might have held fast, and did hold fast, through all extremity; save when thy good— thy life— thy fame— were put in question! Then I consented to a deception. But a lie is never good, even though death threaten on the other side! Dost thou not see what I would say? That old man!— the physician!— he whom they call Roger Chillingworth!— he was my husband!”

Hawthorne's wordy, repetitive style can throw a lot of people off; page-long sentences on Dimmesdale's guilt-driven decrepitude or Chillingworth's dark plottings can be both beautifully melodious and aggravating as all get-out. Written on the precipice between mythology-imbued storytelling -- e.g., the folkloric symbolism associated with the forest -- and a growing interest in realism, the allegories and symbols are ground in classic western mythology, and used to explore 19th-century moral dilemmas still relevant today. (This definitely helps explain why the book holds a lasting place in high-school curricula; it has simple, good examples of just about everything from English 101 but the sentence itself.)

Hawthorne's style also evokes complex investigations into characters' psychology. These investigations always sound like beautiful, perfect arguments for humanity's long history of social dissonance, but they're ultimately proven empty by modern psychology; arguments for the writer's -- and consequently the age's -- ignorance rather than insight into the human condition.

Ultimately, I both liked and loathed this book. It's inarguably dated, and that loss of relevance will only continue. It's defined by 19th-century sensibilities and western morals that look increasingly self-obsessed under the shadow of modern neuro-, social, and environmental science. That doesn't mean it's not a fun yarn, however; the sinister moments of witchcraft and Gothic mystery will stay with me for years to come. I would just hope when you read it, you read it of your own accord.

## Here, there was the taint of deepest sin in the most sacred quality of human life, working such effect, that the world was only the darker for this woman’s beauty, and the more lost for the infant that she had borne.
## The scene was not without a mixture of awe, such as must always invest the spectacle of guilt and shame in a fellow-creature, before society shall have grown corrupt enough to smile, instead of shuddering at it.
( )
1 vote rickyrickyricky | May 1, 2016 |
Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is a classic love triangle set in Puritanical Massachusetts. Hester Prynne becomes the town pariah because she has an illicit affair with a man who is not her husband and bears a child. As fate would have it, Hester's husband comes to town on the day of her punishment and keeps his identity a secret in order to protect Hester from additional punishment. However, Hester's husband, Roger Chillingworth, vows to seek the baby's father and exact revenge. Ironically, the baby's father is a minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, who is considered a saint in the parishioners' eyes. Dimmesdale has a heart condition and requires the medical attention of the local physician, Roger Chillingworth. The result of secrets and broken promises between these three characters drive the action of the plot and also demonstrate the preposterous beliefs of the Puritan faith. Though Hawthorne wrote the book as a criticism of the Puritan religion, particularly the beliefs of sin and damnation, the worthlessness of a sinner, public judgment for private sin, and the effect of hidden sin. He juxtaposes good and evil, conformity and individualism, and love and hate as they shape the human identity. Hawthorne fills the novel with symbols and motifs that reveal deeper meaning through connections. Moreover, his novel is a prime example of Romantic literature and displays all of the elements of the literary period. One of the major discussions in this unit is public punishment for private sin (shaming). I use Monica Lewinsky as an example of a modern day Hester Prynne. Also the theme of unrequited love can be explored by comparing Hester Prynne's love for Dimmesdale to Abigail's love for John Proctor.

Image of the love triangle http://www.johnpackard.com/uploads/3/9/7/1/39710388/3129212_orig.jpg
Image A+ http://www.readliterature.com/hesterprynne2.jpg
Modern Hester https://www.ted.com/talks/monica_lewinsky_the_price_of_shame?language=en ( )
  sgemmell | Apr 21, 2016 |
The novel takes place in 17th-century Boston, Massachusetts during the summer, in a then Puritan village. A young woman named Hester Prynne, has been led from the town prison with her infant daughter in her arms and on the breast of her gown "a rag of scarlet cloth" that "assumed the shape of a letter." It was the uppercase letter "A". The Scarlet Letter "A" represents the act of adultery that she has committed and it is to be a symbol of her sin—a badge of shame—for all to see. A man in the crowd tells an elderly onlooker that Hester is being punished for adultery. Hester's husband, Roger Prynne, who is much older than she, and whose real name is unknown, has sent her ahead to America whilst settling affairs in Europe. However, her husband does not arrive in Boston, and the consensus is that he has been lost at sea. It is apparent that, while waiting for her husband, Hester has had an affair, leading to the birth of her daughter. She will not reveal her lover’s identity, however, and the scarlet letter, along with her subsequent public shaming, is the punishment for her sin and her secrecy. On this day Hester is led to the town scaffold and harangued by the town fathers, but she again refuses to identify her child’s father.[2]

The Scarlet Letter. Painting by T. H. Matteson. This 1860 oil-on-canvas was made under Hawthorne's personal supervision.[2]The elderly onlooker is Hester’s missing husband, who is now practicing medicine and calling himself Roger Chillingworth. He settles in Boston, intent on revenge. He reveals his true identity to no one but Hester, whom he has sworn to secrecy. Several years pass. Hester supports herself by working as a seamstress, and her daughter Pearl grows into a willful, impish child, who is more of a symbol than an actual character, said to be the scarlet letter come to life as both Hester's love and her punishment. Shunned by the community, they live in a small cottage on the outskirts of Boston. Community officials attempt to take Pearl away from Hester, but with the help of Arthur Dimmesdale, an eloquent minister, the mother and daughter manage to stay together. Dimmesdale, however, appears to be wasting away and suffers from mysterious heart trouble, seemingly caused by psychological distress. Chillingworth attaches himself to the ailing minister and eventually moves in with him so that he can provide his patient with round-the-clock care. Chillingworth also suspects that there may be a connection between the minister’s torments and Hester’s secret, and he begins to test Dimmesdale to see what he can learn. One afternoon, while the minister sleeps, Chillingworth discovers something undescribed to the reader, supposedly an "A" burned into Dimmesdale's chest, which convinces him that his suspicions are correct.[2]

Dimmesdale’s psychological anguish deepens, and he invents new tortures for himself. In the meantime, Hester’s charitable deeds and quiet humility have earned her a reprieve from the scorn of the community. One night, when Pearl is about seven years old, she and her mother are returning home from a visit to the deathbed of John Winthrop when they encounter Dimmesdale atop the town scaffold, trying to punish himself for his sins. Hester and Pearl join him, and the three link hands. Dimmesdale refuses Pearl’s request that he acknowledge her publicly the next day, and a meteor marks a dull red “A” in the night sky. It is interpreted by the townsfolk to mean Angel, as a prominent figure in the community had died that night, but Dimmesdale sees it as meaning adultery. Hester can see that the minister’s condition is worsening, and she resolves to intervene. She goes to Chillingworth and asks him to stop adding to Dimmesdale’s self-torment. Chillingworth refuses. She suggests that she may reveal his true identity to Dimmesdale.[2]

Hester arranges an encounter with Dimmesdale in the forest because she is aware that Chillingworth knows that she plans to reveal his identity to Dimmesdale, and she wishes to protect him. While walking through the forest, the sun will not shine on Hester, though Pearl can bask in it. They then wait for Dimmesdale, and he arrives. Hester informs Dimmesdale of the true identity of Chillingworth and the former lovers decide to flee to Europe, where they can live with Pearl as a family. They will take a ship sailing from Boston in four days. Both feel a sense of release, and Hester removes her scarlet letter and lets down her hair. The sun immediately breaks through the clouds and trees to illuminate her release and joy. Pearl, playing nearby, does not recognize her mother without the letter. She is unnerved and expels a shriek until her mother points out the letter on the ground. Hester beckons Pearl to come to her, but Pearl will not go to her mother until Hester buttons the letter back onto her dress. Pearl then goes to her mother. Dimmesdale gives Pearl a kiss on the forehead, which Pearl immediately tries to wash off in the brook, because he again refuses to make known publicly their relationship. However, he too clearly feels a release from the pretense of his former life, and the laws and sins he has lived with.

The day before the ship is to sail, the townspeople gather for a holiday put on in honor of an election and Dimmesdale preaches his most eloquent sermon ever. Meanwhile, Hester has learned that Chillingworth knows of their plan and has booked passage on the same ship. Dimmesdale, leaving the church after his sermon, sees Hester and Pearl standing before the town scaffold. He impulsively mounts the scaffold with his lover and his daughter, and confesses publicly, exposing the mark supposedly seared into the flesh of his chest. He falls dead just after Pearl kisses him.[2]

Frustrated in his revenge, Chillingworth dies a year later. Hester and Pearl leave Boston, and no one knows what has happened to them. Many years later, Hester returns alone, still wearing the scarlet letter, to live in her old cottage and resume her charitable work. She receives occasional letters from Pearl, who was rumored to have married a European aristocrat and established a family of her own. Pearl also inherits all of Chillingworth's money even though he knows she is not his daughter. There is a sense of liberation in her and the townspeople, especially the women, who had finally begun to forgive Hester of her tragic indiscretion. When Hester dies, she is buried in "a new grave near an old and sunken one, in that burial ground beside which King's Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and sunken grave, yet with a space between, as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet one tombstone served for both." The tombstone was decorated with a letter "A", for Hester and Dimmesdale.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
A dark, gothic tale that seeps into the conscious, perhaps wordy for modern readers, but satisfying. ( )
  charlie68 | Feb 22, 2016 |
A classic tale. Hester Prynne, accused by her community for adultery. Bearing a child, is a pariah of her community.

I really don't know if there is much I can add to this story that hasn't already been said about it. It is a must read. It should be on everyone's bookshelf. What amazes me most about this book is that even back then Nathaniel Hawthorne showed the injustic of the double standard. Where women are treated as the chattel they were and men literary got away with murder when it comes to women. I also love the fact how the author points out that some men are just scum above and beyond how they treat women.

This book is and will always be a classic for me. It is one of my favorites. I highly recommend it to be on everyone's bookshelf! ( )
  DVerdecia | Jan 29, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 239 (next | show all)
No one who has taken up the Scarlet Letter will willingly lay it down till he has finished it; and he will do well not to pause, for he cannot resume the story where he left it. He should give himself up to the magic power of the style, without stopping to open wide the eyes of his good sense and judgment, and shake off the spell; or half the weird beauty will disappear like a dissolving view. To be sure, when he closes the book, he will feel very much like the giddy and bewildered patient who is just awaking from his first experiment of the effects of sulphuric ether. The soul has been floating or flying between earth and heaven, with dim ideas of pain and pleasure strangely mingled, and all things earthly swimming dizzily and dreamily, yet most beautiful, before the half shut eye. That the author himself felt this sort of intoxication as well as the willing subjects of his enchantment, we think, is evident in many pages of the last half of the volume. His imagination has sometimes taken him fairly off his feet.

» Add other authors (105 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hawthorne, Nathanielprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baym, NinaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coetzee, J. M.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Connolly, Thomas E.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dwiggins, W AIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Francisco, SellénTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gibson, FloNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harding, BrianEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hill, DickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levin, HarryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marx, LeoForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wauters, AnnieNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Is contained in

Is retold in

Has the (non-series) sequel

Has the adaptation

Is parodied in


Has as a reference guide/companion

Has as a study

Has as a student's study guide

You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This is the main work for The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (5)

Book description
The Scarlet Letter is about a woman who is an outcast in her community due to her child outside of her marriage. It is the story of her life and the life of her child as they are scorned for their sin while the father looks on blameless. This story is about dealing with guilt and seclusion.

I had heard this story for a while. My father always brought up the "A" that was sewn into Hester's dresses. And I think the story-line is really interesting, but I just didn't really like it. There were whole chapters that I felt were pointless. It was just a really slow read.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553210092, Mass Market Paperback)

Hailed by Henry James as "the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the country," Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter reaches to our nation's historical and moral roots for the material of great tragedy. Set in an early New England colony, the novel shows the terrible impact a single, passionate act has on the lives of three members of the community: the defiant Hester Prynne; the fiery, tortured Reverend Dimmesdale; and the obsessed, vengeful Chillingworth.

With The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne became the first American novelist to forge from our Puritan heritage a universal classic, a masterful exploration of humanity's unending struggle with sin, guilt and pride.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:14 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

Hester Prynne, a young wife in colonial New England, is sentenced to wear a scarlet "A" on her clothing, as a public acknowledgement of her sin of adultery.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 54 descriptions

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (3.39)
0.5 32
1 285
1.5 33
2 593
2.5 116
3 1458
3.5 240
4 1508
4.5 126
5 779


41 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

See editions

Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0142437263, 0143105442, 0141199458

Library of America Paperback Classics

An edition of this book was published by Library of America Paperback Classics.

» Publisher information page

Columbia University Press

An edition of this book was published by Columbia University Press.

» Publisher information page

Tantor Media

2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 1400100607, 1400108551

Recorded Books

An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

» Publisher information page

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Store | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 105,856,598 books! | Top bar: Always visible