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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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The Scarlet Letter (original 1850; edition 1850)

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

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
22,99325151 (3.39)1 / 702
Member:sturlington
Title:The Scarlet Letter
Authors:Nathaniel Hawthorne
Other authors:Thomas E. Connolly (Notes), Nina Baym (Introduction)
Info:Penguin Classics (2003), Trade Paperback
Collections:Unowned
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Massachusetts, Boston, New England, Colonial period, women and girls, unreviewed

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. 10
    Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker (rickyrickyricky)
    rickyrickyricky: Contains a lot of parallels between the two heroines. Acker's '77 novel also contains a scathing deconstruction of Hawthorne's the Scarlet Letter somewhere down the line. If you haven't heard of her, take note. She's worth the attention.
  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.
  7. 21
    The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (chrisharpe, kxlly)
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Showing 1-5 of 240 (next | show all)
the writing style is difficult at first, but you become used to it. That aside I enjoyed the book. ( )
  jodiesohl | Jun 25, 2016 |
Rather dul and wordy. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
Book Description
Like all of Hawthorne's novels, "The Scarlet Letter" has but a slender plot and but few characters with an influence on the development of the story. Its great dramatic force depends entirely on the mental states of the actors and their relations to one another, —relations of conscience, — relations between wronged and wrongers. Its great burden is the weight of unacknowledged sin as seen in the remorse and cowardice and suffering of the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale. Contrasted with his concealed agony is the constant confession, conveyed by the letter, which is forced upon Hester, and has a double effect, — a healthful one, working beneficently, and making her helpful and benevolent, tolerant and thoughtful ; and an unhealthful one, which by the great emphasis placed on her transgression, the keeping her forever under its ban and isolating her from her fellows, prepares her to break away from the long repression and lapse again into sin when she plans her flight. Roger Chillingworth is an embodiment of subtle and refined revenge. The most striking situation is perhaps "The Minister's Vigil," in chapter xii. The book, though corresponding in its tone and burden to some of the shorter stories, had a more startling and dramatic character, and a strangeness, which at once took hold of a larger public than any of those had attracted. Though imperfectly comprehended, and even misunderstood in some quarters, it was seen to have a new and unique quality; and Hawthorne's reputation became national.

My Review
This was a re-read for me as I read this when I was in high school. I think I enjoyed it even more the second time around. Although a little outdated for today's teenagers, the book is a good look at what it was like living in the 1600's and having to adhere to their moral codes. It is a deeply emotional book with lots of symbolism and does show that bad decisions do have consequences. I do highly recommend the book as it is one story that is very hard to forget. ( )
  EadieB | Jun 1, 2016 |
I decided to re-read “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read it about twenty-five years ago. It was just as wonderful to read this time as it was before. The story was beautifully written and the contents of the book was absolutely forthcoming. The life of Hester Prynne was not what she had envisioned for herself. She sinned and fell in love with a Parishioner. The High Government of the village imprisoned her because she was with child and not married. They kept her alive, shamed her thinking they would get her to release the name of the father of this baby. While imprisoned she embroider a gold letter A to be placed on her bosom to show all, as she was released from prison with the baby, that she had sinned. From that point on she bored the scarlet letter A and walked with her daughter Pearl throughout the village while people stared, talked amongst themselves and would have nothing to do with her. Many also thought young Pearl was carrying evil within her. Once the young child was about seven Hester’s and Pearl’s life began to change. Hester was driven into more turmoil, when another man re-entered her life…..From there the story goes on about how Hester and Pearl left the village and only Hester returned to spend the rest of her life as she once did……


( )
  Juan-banjo | May 31, 2016 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 240 (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

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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.
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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.
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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

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

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3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0142437263, 0143105442, 0141199458

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Editions: 1400100607, 1400108551

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