The Critical Response to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letterby Gary Scharnhorst
The Scarlet Letter is virtually unique among works of American fiction because it has not lapsed from print in over 140 years. The history of its reception, which is fully articulated in the volume introduction, may be read as a case study in canon formation. The collection of documents in the volume outline the highs and lows of Nathaniel Hawthorne's literary
The Scarlet Letter is virtually unique among works of American fiction because it has not lapsed from print in over 140 years. The history of its reception, which is fully articulated in the volume introduction, may be read as a case study in canon formation. The collection of documents in the volume outline the highs and lows of Nathaniel Hawthorne's literary reputation and the elevation of his first and best-known romance to the rank of masterpiece and classic. Also included is a selective bibliography of modern scholarship.
Among the early documents reprinted are contemporary news accounts of Hawthorne's dismissal from the Salem Custom House in June 1849, which provide the immediate background to The Custom House introduction in the story, the publisher James T. Fields's anecdotal version of the book's composition history, and a generous sheaf of notices from both American and British newspapers upon its publication in March, 1850. Of special value are the various essays and other materials that trace the institutionalization of the romance within the genteel tradition of American letters in the late nineteenth century. More recently, The Scarlet Letter has become something of an academic shibboleth, inspiring dozens of New Critical, psychoanalytical, feminist, and other readings, which are also represented in this collection. Prominent among modern critics whose essays appear are Neal Frank Doubleday, Darrel Abel, and Nina Baym. A number of reviews of theatrical and cinematic adaptations of the story also underscore its stature as a cultural icon. This volume is essential for serious research on Nathaniel Hawthorne and provides a convenient body of valuable commentary accessible even to the student reading The Scarlet Letter for the first time.
Meet the Author
GARY SCHARNHORST is Professor of English at the University of New Mexico and coeditor of American Literary Realism. His book publications include The Lost Life of Horatio Alger, Jr. and Nathaniel Hawthorne: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism Before 1900. His articles have appeared in a wide assortment of academic journals appropriate to American literature as well as essay collections in book form.
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