The Office of the Scarlet Letter (Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society Series) by Sacvan Bercovitch, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
The Office of The Scarlet Letter

The Office of The Scarlet Letter

by Sacvan Bercovitch
     
 

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"The Scarlet Letter has proved our most enduring classic," writes Sacvan Bercovitch, "because it is the liberal example par excellence of art as ideological mimesis. To understand the office of the A is to see how culture empowers symbolic form, including forms of dissent, and how symbols participate in the dynamics of culture, including the

Overview

"The Scarlet Letter has proved our most enduring classic," writes Sacvan Bercovitch, "because it is the liberal example par excellence of art as ideological mimesis. To understand the office of the A is to see how culture empowers symbolic form, including forms of dissent, and how symbols participate in the dynamics of culture, including the dynamics of constraint."

With an approach that both reflects and contests developments in literary studies, Bercovitch explores these connections from two perspectives: first, he examines a historical reading of the novel’s unities; and then, a rhetorical analysis of key mid-nineteenth-century issues, at home and abroad. In order to highlight the relation between rhetoric and history, he focuses on the point at which the scarlet letter does its office at last, the moment when Hester decides to come home to America.

In The Office of "The Scarlet Letter," Bercovitch argues that the process by which the United States usurped "America" for itself, symbolically, is also the process by which liberalism established political and economic dominance. In the course of his study, he offers sustained discussions of Hawthorne’s irony and ambiguity, of aesthetic and social strategies of cohesion, and of the conundrums of liberal dissent. Winner of the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowe prize, The Office of "The Scarlet Letter" provides a theoretical redefinition of the function of symbolism in culture and an exemplary literary-ideological reading of a major text.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“In The Office of the Scarlett Letter, in particular, we encounter that rare thing, a text that remains perhaps the most powerful instance of the intellectual approach it is engaged in inventing.”

—Award presentation speech for Jay B. Hubbell Award

“[A] work of such passionate intelligence . . . [I]t will be a stolid reader who does not feel the immensely stimulating suggestiveness of this book. Questions of unusual profundity—about Hawthorne, about The Scarlet Letter, about the relations of literature and culture, and about the nature of American freedom—are subjected to rich mediation in The Office of “The Scarlet Letter.” It is a major work that all students of American literature and culture will have to learn from and contend with.”

—Richard Brodhead, Modern Language Quarterly

The Office of The Scarlet Letter is best understood in dialogic terms, that is, not as a statement standing by itself, but as a response to a whole tradition of historical literary criticism.”

Novel: A Forum on Fiction

“The Office of 'The Scarlet Letter' is sure to influence, if not determine, scholarly understanding of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel for some time to come . . . [T]his compelling short book is suggestive in its allusions, complex in argumentation, and powerfully concentrated in style. It . . . is an exercise in what Bercovitch has come to call 'cultural symbology'—an analysis of the ways in which works of literature both reflect contemporary discourse and transform the tropes by which a culture understands itself.”

Modern Philology

“As part of his ongoing meditation on the rhetorical methods of American liberalism, Sacvan Bercovitch takes The Scarlet Letter as 'the liberal example par excellence of art as ideological mimesis' . . . The ranges of meaning summoned by Hawthorne’s style reveal for Bercovitch a typology of liberal procedure: the entertainment and subsequent absorpotion of different or, in more specifically political terms, the expansive containment of forms of dissent.”

—Gillian Brown, American Literature

The Scarlet Letter remains a 'touchstone' in American cultural history, and it will not be ignored. Bringing together materials from earlier lectures and published essays in The Office of 'The Scarlet Letter,' Sacvan Bercovitch proves the point by establishing his own well-informed position in the critical debate . . . Bercovitch’s book combines a potent mixture of particular evidence and grand theory that must be expected to change some minds. Even readers who choose to reject parts of The Office of 'The Scarlet Letter' will realize that they have been provided with rich new possibilities to think about. It is a book that forces reconsideration.”

—Earl N. Harbert, The New England Quarterly

“Bercovitch explores in an illumination way . . .his view of Hawthorne’s social purposes . . . [An] informative book.”—Douglas Anderson, Nineteenth-Century Literature

“[Bercovitch] explores the ties between Hawthorne’s work and American religion, politics and society, and the differences and similarities between Hawthorne’s views and those of Emerson and the Transcendentalists. His book goes a long way to proving that any literary masterpiece, read with sympathy and intelligence, works to re-establish the connections between the work of art and the life and thought of its time.”

—James R. Mellow, Times Literary Supplement

“Magisterially developing the second word of the title and searching out the ambiguities of the romance in the various ideological, social, and cultural contexts, The Office of The Scarlet Letter reads the romance in its seventeenth-century context; in the context of Hawthorne’s individual understanding, and his contemporaries’ understanding, of that earlier context and in the context of our understanding of both earlier contexts. The resulting study successfully implicates late-twentieth-century American culture with its earliest origins. The book’s office is to aid us through ideological, sociocultural, and aesthetic interpretation, in understanding our fate and hope in our time.”

MLA, James Russell Lowell Prize Citation

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781412849807
Publisher:
Transaction Publishers
Publication date:
03/27/2013
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
212
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

Meet the Author

Sacvan Bercovitch was Powell M. Cabot Research Professor of American Literature at Harvard University as well as fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and past president of American Studies Association. His books include The Puritan Origins of the American Self, The American Jeremiad, and Rites of Assent: The Symbolic Construction of America.

Sacvan Bercovitch was Powell M. Cabot Research Professor of American Literature at Harvard University as well as fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and past president of American Studies Association. His books include The Puritan Origins of the American Self, The American Jeremiad, and Rites of Assent: The Symbolic Construction of America.

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