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The Scarlet Letter (1850)

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
33,79234967 (3.38)2 / 956
Set in the harsh Puritan environment of 17th century Boston, The scarlet letter describes the plight of Hester Prynne, an independent-minded woman who stands alone against society. Having given birth to a child after an illicit affair, she refuses to name the father and is forced to wear the letter "A" for adulteress embroidered on her dress.… (more)
  1. 134
    The Crucible by Arthur Miller (SandSing7, Morteana)
  2. 124
    The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (chrisharpe)
  3. 20
    Kamouraska by Anne Hébert (charlie68)
  4. 31
    Elective Affinities by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (LCBrooks)
    LCBrooks: Allows for interesting comparisons on the subject of double marriage.
  5. 21
    Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker (tootstorm)
    tootstorm: 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. 21
    Too Late the Phalarope by Alan Paton (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Sex and guilt in Calvinist cultures.
  7. 11
    Elsie Venner A Romance of Destiny by Oliver Wendell Holmes (Midnightdreary)
    Midnightdreary: Similar exploration of the question of sin, inherited or otherwise.
  8. 22
    The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (chrisharpe, kxlly)
  9. 00
    The Scarlet Letter [1995 film] by Roland Joffé (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Fascinating interpretation. Very free and very different. Really an independent work of art. If not superior to the novel, certainly not inferior to it either. Good script, excellent cast, beautiful music.
  10. 12
    Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell (CurrerBell)
    CurrerBell: Hester Prynne has a spunkiness that Ruth Hilton lacks.
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» See also 956 mentions

English (324)  Spanish (9)  French (4)  Italian (4)  Catalan (3)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (349)
Showing 1-5 of 324 (next | show all)
Glad to have read this book after all these years. But not greatly moved by it. I'll be curious to read more about it now, though. ( )
  steve02476 | Jan 3, 2023 |
Read about 1970 in high school. Very impressive. ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
“Hawthorne is the most consummate literary artist in American literature, and The Scarlet Letter is the greatest book ever written in the Western Hemisphere. It is not relatively, but absolutely great; it holds its place among the fifteen best nevels of the world”

- William Lyon Phelps, professor of English Literature at Yale and Methodist preacher, from the 1926 introduction to The Scarlet Letter.

I can’t bring myself to offer praise as effusive as William Lyon Phelps does in the above quote. I find the book's overt moral judgement and tendency to “tell rather than show” to be detractions from its reputation for greatness.

And, I suspect that even as the learned professor wrote his 1926 introduction, The Scarlet Letter was already firmly established as the bane of Literature classes. Its dense sentences and 17th century Puritan setting can work to make it remote and unwelcoming to readers. Yet it continues to be an established American classic, ranking high on many modern lists of great American novels, just as it is still taught in high schools and colleges even now.

The story is a familiar one. In the Puritan settlement of Boston in the 1640s Hester Prynne is publicly shamed for her sin - conceiving and bearing a child outside of marriage. Hester refuses to identify the child’s father. For her sin and her obstinance she is publicly shamed and forced to forevermore wear a prominent mark to signify her shame - the scarlet letter A.

In attendance at her shaming as the full story starts are the other three main characters. In her arms is her “sin born” daughter Pearl. Helping to preside over her sentence is the Puritan preacher Dimmesdale - Pearl’s father whose reputation Hester is shielding - who makes his own choice not to reveal himself. Lastly, there is a new arrival to town, recently escaped from bondage to the Indians, who is later revealed to be Hester’s husband Roger Chillingworth.

As the book progresses, we see the impact of the repressive Puritan culture on Dimmesdale, Hester and Pearl, and the scheming designs of Chillingworth.

Dimmesdale is riven with guilt and anguish at his sin. The Puritans were Calvinists and believed that only the “Select” will get to Heaven. Those who sin here on earth give evidence that they are not among the Select. Dimmesdale's sins, he is sure, have made him unworthy of his role as preacher, and marked him as bound for hell.

Chillingworth, who no one knows is Hester’s husband, exacts his revenge by inveigling his way into Dimmesdale’s life, preying on his guilt.

Pearl looks fated to grow up unhappily among a colony of people who will think the worst of her no matter what she may do, while Hester will surely die of shame.

But instead, Dimmesdale and Chillingsworth wither away and pay the ultimate price for their sins. Pearl escapes the clutches of the colony with her mother and returns to Europe where she will be well wed. Hester, after seeing to Pearl’s future, returns to Boston to voluntarily take back up the wearing of the scarlet letter. Only now she wears it without the shame its sentence was meant to give.

Hawthorne is considered a Romantic, and an anti-Puritan. His own family were early settlers in Salem and some of his anti-Puritanism was no doubt personal and familial. It’s no coincidence then, that the object of Puritan shaming should gain the strength to stand up for herself and her daughter. But the other sinners who were not ill-treated by the Puritans do not escape the consequences of their sins - Dimmesdale for his lack of purity and Chillingsworth for his acts of revenge.

Hawthorne was also given to writing stories with strong moral metaphors, and that is certainly true with The Scarlet Letter. The metaphors basically hit you over the head in this novel.

It has long been popular. On its publication in 1850 The Scarlet Letter became an instant hit. It was one of the first mass produced books in the US, and its initial print run of 2500 copies sold out in ten days. It has scarcely had a day out of print since. ( )
  stevesbookstuff | Aug 31, 2022 |
Was hard to get through it knowing what was going to happen already. Didn't quite finish it. Becky's bookclub book
( )
  PatLibrary123 | Aug 9, 2022 |
  archivomorero | Jun 28, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 324 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (129 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hawthorne, Nathanielprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bakker, NelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baym, NinaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bonsanti, MarcellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Canavaggia, MarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coetzee, J. M.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Connolly, Thomas E.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cordelli, FrancoContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cox, James TrammellIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dwiggins, W AIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fernie, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Francisco, SellénTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frasier, ShellyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gibson, FloNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harding, BrianEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hill, DickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hill, JamesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levin, HarryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lonza, GiannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martin, John S.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martini, Fausto MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marx, LeoForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pagetti, CarloContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stade, NancyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tasso, BrunoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thomson, HughIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorp, WillardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valori, FrancescoTranslatorsecondary 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.
[Introduction to Barnes & Noble Classics] The surname of the protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" suggests pride in sin and the sin of pride.
[Preface to the Second Edition] Much to the author's surprise, and (if he may say so without additional offence) considerably to his amusement, he finds that his sketch of official life, introductory to "The Scarlet Letter", has created an unprecedented excitement in the respectable community immediately around him.
[Introductory] It is a little remarkable, that--though disinclined to talk overmuch of myself and my affairs at the fireside, and to my personal friends--an autobiographical impulse should twice in my life have taken possession of me, in addressing the public.
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This is the main work for The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Set in the harsh Puritan environment of 17th century Boston, The scarlet letter describes the plight of Hester Prynne, an independent-minded woman who stands alone against society. Having given birth to a child after an illicit affair, she refuses to name the father and is forced to wear the letter "A" for adulteress embroidered on her dress.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary
Self-pity, yes, but
no pity for sinners, just
bigotry and hate.

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Average: (3.38)
0.5 36
1 398
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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.

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Tantor Media

2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 1400100607, 1400108551

West Margin Press

An edition of this book was published by West Margin Press.

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Recorded Books

An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

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Urban Romantics

2 editions of this book were published by Urban Romantics.

Editions: 1909438901, 190943891X


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