Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

I have been meaning to read The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 to 1864, Salem, Massachusetts, USA for at least fifty years.  If you have not yet had the sublime pleasure of reading the consensus second or maybe third best American 19th century novel, behind Moby Dick and in contention with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for second place (please feel to weigh in on this) you should read it as soon as you can.

My preconceptions of The Scarlett Letter were wrong.  I somehow thought it would be a a moralistic condemnation of a woman who committed adultery, a novel you read because it is on the list of greatest novels or because you are into American literary history.  I ended up really loving it.  I will not relay any of the plot, a lot of people, myself not included, have seen a movie version though now I would like to see the new version.  I will just try to say what I liked about it.

I was hooked from the great opening section where Hester Prine is found guilty of adultery, she had a child out of wedlock in 17th century Puritan New England.  She is sentenced to term in prison and to wear a Scarlett A on her blouse the rest of her life.  I loved the mysterious stranger who emerges from the forest accompanied by an Indian to speak in defense of Hester.  I found Hawthorne's treatment of Indians very interesting.  I am undecided if it should be considered a benign form of Orientalizing. The prose of Hawthorne is a great pleasure to read.  

I greatly admired the character of Hester Prine.  She basically turned her Scarlett letter into a badge of honor for her refusal to accept the condemnation of society.  She could have easily just left town.  I liked Hawthorne's description of her appearance.  I think the casting of Demi Moore as Hester would be enthusiastically endorsed by Hawthorne.

I was totally fascinated by Heather's daughter, Pearl.  She is the forerunner of 1000s of mysterious children in countless literary works and movies.  

Hawthorne is a master at physical descriptions and he does a superb job of bringing the lead male characters to life.  The novel has a very biblical feel.  There is a lot of religious imagery in the book, much based on The Book of Revelations.  

I really liked that Hawthorne took us many years into the future of Heather and Pearl.  

The Scarlett Letter can stand with the greatest of all novels.  I hope to read his The House of Seven Gables this year.  

Mel u

1 comment:

Suko said...

Mel, I also have this classic book in my TBR pile. Actually, it's on a shelf in my makeshift bookcase, a baker's rack that holds books. It's another reason for my angst as a book blogger; I've postponed reading it for quite a while. Thanks for encouraging me to read it in your insightful review!