The Scarlet Letter (Everyman's Library)

The Scarlet Letter (Everyman's Library)

3.9 2555
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

Hester Prynne is a beautiful young woman. She is also an outcast. In the eyes of her neighbours she has committed an unforgivable sin. Everyone knows that her little daughter Pearl is the product of an illicit affair but no one knows the identity of Pearl’s father. Hester’s refusal to name him brings more condemnation upon her. But she stands strong in

Overview

Hester Prynne is a beautiful young woman. She is also an outcast. In the eyes of her neighbours she has committed an unforgivable sin. Everyone knows that her little daughter Pearl is the product of an illicit affair but no one knows the identity of Pearl’s father. Hester’s refusal to name him brings more condemnation upon her. But she stands strong in the face of public scorn, even when she is forced to wear the sign of her shame sewn onto her clothes: the scarlet letter “A” for “Adulteress.”

The story of Hester Prynne–found out in adultery, pilloried by her Puritan community, and abandoned, in different ways, by both her partner in sin and her vengeance-seeking husband–possesses a reality heightened by Hawthorne’s pure human sympathy and his unmixed devotion to his supposedly fallen but fundamentally innocent heroine.

In its moral force and the beauty of its conciliations, The Scarlet Letter rightly deserves its stature as the first great novel written by an American, the novel that announced an American literature equal to any in the world.

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[The Scarlet Letter’s] Hester was the creation of someone who loved Woman, saw her, as Verdi did, as necessarily tragic and alone, but emotionally sacred in a diminished world . . . Hester is the only character in the book big enough to sustain a conflict–with the harsh Puritan world–equal to Hawthorne’s own. In a book without heroes, Hester is a unique literary heroine.” –from the Introduction by Alfred Kazin

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679417316
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/28/1992
Series:
Portland House Illustrated Classics Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
312
Sales rank:
606,966
Product dimensions:
5.22(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.88(d)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Introduction by Kathryn Harrison


Why should the fate of a fictional seventeenth-century adulteress named Hester Prynne concern us? After all, we live in an age when marriage is understood more as a lifestyle choice than as a sacrament and children are routinely conceived not only out of wedlock but out of body. When grandmothers can give birth to their own grandchildren and paternity can remain forever invisible, hidden behind the bar code of a sperm bank deposit, isn't the notion of a public outcry against adultery a bit quaint, even irrelevant? Isn't Hester Prynne—the invention of a writer notoriously preoccupied with guilt—merely a historical curiosity?

The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance, on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes. She was lady-like, too. . . . And never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like . . . than as she issued from the prison. . . . But the point which drew all eyes, and as it were, transfigured the wearer,—so that both men and women, who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne, were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time,—was that Scarlet Letter, so fantastically embroidered on her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.

Hester might be forgotten, were she not unforgettable. She might, like countless real-life unwed mothers, have simplysuffered and vanished, were she no more than an unwed mother. After all, Hester's crime is irrelevant. She survives in the reader's imagination because of her punishment and what she makes of it: a spell that removes her from "the ordinary relations with humanity," from the realm where her story begins.

The plot of The Scarlet Letter is that which typically proceeds from a lovers' triangle. Having escaped a confining marriage to an older man whose intellect has eclipsed his soul, Hester Prynne falls into the ready arms of a man whose soul has burned away his reason, only to discover that fate is, indeed, biology. Despite the courage of her convictions, despite an evolved understanding that what she "did had a consecration of its own," Hester's freedom, both sexual and societal, ends with pregnancy. After bearing her child within the comparatively forgiving shelter of a prison, she is released into the murderously intolerant community of Salem, Massachusetts, populated by Puritans, politicians, witches—each group defined and afflicted by its own set of judgments. Hester is condemned by the townspeople, her estranged husband consumed by jealousy, her lover sacrificed to guilt and self-recrimination. As we see, human experience guarantees suffering, but of particular kinds—to each his own torment.

Nathaniel Hawthorne called The Scarlet Letter a romance, identifying (in his preface to The House of the Seven Gables) the genre as one that offers more "latitude" than the novel, which he defined as preoccupied with "fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary." In contrast to more realistic forms, the romance is free to map an eccentric interior landscape: the brilliant and revelatory terrain of the unconscious, where truth is gauged not by probability but by depth of feeling. With Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth, readers follow Hester Prynne into a dreamscape where names are clues (dim, chilling), where a witch lives in the governor's mansion and men who hide their sins will find them writ upon the sky—a primeval land whose sun shines not so much to warm as to illuminate.

To what end? What will we see by its preternatural light? Nothing less than the triumph of a pure heart, convention and conformity overcome by passion and exploration, shame and secrecy banished by honesty and confession, the spirit outliving the letter of the law, the radical assault of the New Testament on the Old. Utopia? In the second sentence of The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne uses the word, holds it up like a sign in ironic reference to such a place, to the intrinsic human desire to start over, to make the world anew and better, to honor the life we are given rather than once again fail that promise. Instead of "a people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical," a society in its moral infancy and thus dependent on literalness, on patriarchy, couldn't we hope to evolve into a people who can gracefully manage our own interior lives? Couldn't we, perhaps, take Hester Prynne as our model?

The central figure of the romance is immediately identified by the "mystic symbol"; and, in case readers are so dull as to somehow miss Hester's significance, Nathaniel Hawthorne does two astonishing things when introducing us to his heroine. He costumes a sexual deviant as the Virgin, an "image of Divine Maternity," and he tells us that the scarlet letter A on Hester's breast, the representation of her sin, has transfigured the woman who wears it. Of course the very purpose of her punishment, the pilgrim fathers might have asserted, was to change Hester Prynne, to remake the sinner into "a living sermon against sin." But beware: once humans take judgment, the prerogative of the divine, into their fallible mortal hands, they rend the veil between natural and supernatural. In the novels and short stories of Hawthorne, a writer as preoccupied with enchantments as Poe and as obsessed with culpability as Dostoyevsky, verities have a tendency to shape-shift. Or, to put it another way, in the land of romance, existing as it does on the savage and wonder-filled frontier of the unconscious, revelation is yet possible. No sooner is Hester given her stigma than she uses her feminine skill to make it into a stigmata, illuminating her blood-red stain with gold thread "fantastically embroidered." Glinting from the courthouse steps, raised like an icon above the crowd, her breast resembles nothing so much as that of the rent heart of Jesus projecting rays of righteousness.

Continued....


From the Hardcover edition.

What People are saying about this

Henry James
It is beautiful, admirable, extraordinary; it has in the highest degree that merit which I have spoken of as the mark of Hawthorne's best things--an indefinable purity and lightness of conception...One can often return to it; it supports familiarity and has the inexhaustible charm and mystery of great works of art.

Meet the Author

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was born in Salem, Massachusetts, and made his ambition to be a writer while still a teenager. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, where the poet Longfellow was also a student, and spent several years travelling in New England and writing short stories before his best-known novel The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850. His writing was not at first financially rewarding and he worked as measurer and surveyor in the Boston and Salem Custom Houses. In 1853 he was sent to Liverpool as American consul and then lived in Italy before returning to the US in 1860, where he died in his sleep four years later.

His interest in Greek mythology led him to suggest to Longfellow in 1838 that they collaborate on a story for children based on the legend of Pandora's Box, but this never materialized. He wrote A Wonder-Book between April and July 1851, adapting six legends most freely from Charles Anton's A Classical Dictionary (1842). He set out deliberately to 'modernize' the stories, freeing them from what he called 'cold moonshine' and using a romantic, readable style that was criticized by adults but proved universally popular with children.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
July 4, 1804
Date of Death:
May 19, 1864
Place of Birth:
Salem, Massachusetts
Place of Death:
Plymouth, New Hampshire
Education:
Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, 1824

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The Scarlet Letter (Illustrated + FREE audiobook link + Active TOC) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2555 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you can remember the discussions from high-school English class about this book--read it again and see how much you've grown up! If you've been married, betrayed, or have children- it's a totally different read from when your only worry is breaking curfew and going to the mall.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of the most well known pieces of literature, and it definitely deserves its title as an American classic. Set in a puritan colony in Massachusetts, the book depicts the life a young woman named Hester Prynne as she commits the ignominious crime of adultery. However, not only does she commit this sin with just anybody, her partner in crime turns out to be the town’s church minister. Then on top of this, Hester conceives a child she names Pearl. With the scarlet letter of shame she is now forced to where upon her breast, and with the child that was a direct result of her crime, she becomes the towns’ outcast. These elaborate conflicts carry on throughout the plot as Hester struggles to prevail over her disgrace and to keep incognito her fellow sinner. The third person narrative focuses on the development of Hester as she gains independence, and strives to achieve forgiveness and a normalcy back into her life. She starts work as a weaver in order to provide for Pearl, and help give back to the community. The piece also concentrates on Pearl, how she is the representation of a devil child, and her fascination and constant attraction to Hester’s scarlet letter. In addition, although Hester loves her with all her heart, she did not like the way Pearl was conceived. Pearl, along with her mother, is an outcast but develops into a strong, multifaceted child who in some minds, even sometimes in Hester’s, is evil. Pearl’s father is also developed in the story, as he deals with extreme guilt. He is driven almost insane with the knowledge that he should be sharing the same fate as Hester. Hawthorne writes in a way so well thought out, that the reader can feel many different emotions and conjure so many different opinions. Hawthorne pinpoints the themes of evil, sin, and the identity in society throughout the novel, really highlighting a psychological, as well as sociological, way of writing. He depicts these difficult subjects in such intricate ways through the different characters in his story. For example, the scarlet letter A helped Hester daringly analyze herself and her position in society, further letting her accept the awful she has committed. Arthur Dimmesdale on the other hand—Pearl’s father—had the internal burden of keeping his adultery a secret, thus displaying an alternative view and perhaps even a worse off way, to cope with his wrongdoing. Nevertheless, this is only one of the numerous interpretations of the different themes in the book, solidifying that the novel really does have a great deal of complexity. Although the novel is a fantastic classic, it does like anything else have a few weaknesses; some including the loquacious tone Hawthorne turns to when describing in depth different settings, people, and events. The narration during this lags on for a bit before it gets back into more interesting events. In addition, it is a classic, and the writing is obviously written with a different mannerism, which can be taken as a pain to read, or a very poetic technique. Even so, the Scarlet Letter’s benefits outweigh its flaws. The captivating plot, interesting characters, and complex themes keep the attention of the reader and make them want to keep reading to find out what will happen next. That is why the Scarlet Letter is a classic, and that is why it will be read for many more generations to come.
Vovo More than 1 year ago
I moaned, groaned, and complained about reading The Scarlet Letter for a literature class, but as I turned the first page, my attention was seduced. The writing itself is very unique in its style. Mostly, the chapters critically analyze the characters therin, delving into the abyss of thought. As well as displaying a fantastic portrayal of Puritan society, the symbols, the emotions, and the dialogue are masterful. The Scarlet Letter is well-wriiten, thought-provoking, and definitly a book that should continue to be read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first 17 pages of this particular version of Scarlet Letter is basically a "Cliff-Note" version of the book. Try not to read through it, otherwise you'll have no reason to read the actual novel. I read through the rest of the book, skipping through pages because, well, I already knew what was going to happen.
mmsSC More than 1 year ago
I read at least one classic each summer - some are good and some are actually as bad as I remember from High School. But I really enjoyed the Scarlet Letter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a required read in high school, which was quite some time ago, I had to read this story and if I needed a quick nap all I needed to do was pull out Scarlet Letter. Many years later I read it again. I knew there was a reason that Hawthorne had this grip on me. His writing is so dark, yet wonderfully illuminating. No one utilizes symbols better than Hawthorne. The idea that Hester lives on the edge between the city and the woods is a great example of how that represents her situation. It's absolutley brilliant. Also, there has to be a connection to Hawthorne's anguish through the character of Pastor Dimmesdale. The idea of living with so much guilt in a community that was intolerant of 'mortal' sins reveals the soul of Hawthorne and the quiet cry of a man tortured with his past.
I would highly recommend other stories of his, novels or short stories, in order to better understand his anguish and desire for perfection. Once I read other stories it made this novel so much easier to understand. This is on level with Romeo and Juliet without the feud.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to read a banned or previously banned/challenged book for class, I chose this book to do the report on, however as I was doing the report I realized that this version definitely is not at all like the original. So if you're looking for the original make sure you choose a different book. There is chapters cut out and sentences changed to edit it so it's not banned anymore. The original is a great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to read this for my English Lit. Class. Although the story is a decent one, the book is so slow moving and filled with a lot of unnecessary details and happenings that didnt help the story progress, they were just there, like a lot of filler. It was difficult for me to get through.
Bookjunkie40 More than 1 year ago
Well I finally finished The Scarlet Letter. I have to admit it was slow to begin, but then the mystery of who was the father was caught my interest. I did figure it out before the book confirmed it, but I have to admit it was the mystery I liked best. The writer did his job, I thought her husband was a jerk which I would guess was the writers intent. I guess the only reason why I read it was because it was on the classic list, and it did stand the test of time for it to remain in today's society, but who am I to judge?!?!?!?
kotachi More than 1 year ago
Ever since my first intro to the Scarlet Letter I have been moved by the way it was written. Knowing how sensitive this issue was during that time frame it was a heart-wrenching story. And it was totally believable. I love the classics but I think this has become my favorite. Sparks the imagination where infidelity is concerned amongst the clergy ranks; tears for the lost innocence of the heroine and ache for the shame and degradation she faced. And it still is happening today!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey. I'm thirteen and an obsessive reader, and l loved this book. It's an interesting exploration of American's odd relationship with scandal and sex, even today. But be warned: It's tough going. I suggest reading it in ebook form like I did so you can look up words. I would still, however, highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
And the movie was awesome. I honestly have the movie on dvr or did dont know if its still on there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good im jusboredt
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Princess Zelda to anybody                                                                                                                                                                                                       Has Lacy been on lately? I haven't been on myself either, so please let me know.-looks at time- DAM! It's already 7:30am?! Bleh, I have to go really soon..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
a unwed woman becomes pregnant and refuses to tell who the father is . she is made to where a red A on her clothes symbolizing that she is a adultress because she isnt married
Guacamole More than 1 year ago
Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter represents a dark blend of forbidden love, unspeakable crime, and malevolent revenge. Revolving around one powerful act of passion, the novel addresses the permanent damage inflicted upon Hester Prynne, Reverent Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingforth. Set in the Puritan community, Hester's adultery with Dimmesdale renders her an outcast denounced by society. While her crime is of the utmost severity, I found myself sympathizing with her throughout the retributions. Dimmesdale's suppressed guilt torments him, but his position in society prevents confession. Again, my sympathy extended to these helpless figures, human beings defeated by the overwhelming power of love. With an insatiable thirst for vengeance, Chillingforth, while the victim of the initial crime, becomes the aggressor and loses sympathy quickly. Blurring the line of morality, The Scarlet Letter seems to justify sin with a pure devotion, subtly commending the powerful act of passion by making the two involved the subject of one's pity. While the setting of this novel is in Puritan America, its themes are universal. The natures of sin, of guilt, and of penitence are addressed in the novel's carefully crafted plot. Despite societal scorn, regret never seemed to haunt Hester Prynne, making her oddly respectable. Her dedication to fulfilling her destiny was, instead, what won my affection. Determined to overcome the public's animosity, she devoted her time to mothering Pearl and giving back to the community. The series of good deeds following her sin redeemed her in my eyes, and the adultery only served to make her more human, and thus, more admirable. Exploring another fundamental aspect of human nature, the novel raises a question regarding public personas versus private lives. Despite being a high-standing member of the Puritan society, Reverend Dimmesdale failed to abide by the purity he preaches. Unable to ignore his love for Hester, he chose a path other than the Straight and Narrow, dooming himself to a lifetime of penitence. As the two sinners cope with the repercussions of their actions, Chillingforth, the victim of the crime, engages in a ruthless pursuit of revenge. His malevolence and desire to destroy seem to reverse the crime and justify the adultery; rather than acting out of hatred, at least Hester and Reverend Dimmesdale sinned out of love. The juxtaposition of these two crimes blends black and white, and leaves one to ponder the true meaning of sin.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Hey is it ok if i join?
Anonymous 5 months ago
Its been 2-3 years sinc ive looked at nook world and a piece of me misses it but niw ts become a memory and it was truly hard for me to let go
Anonymous 5 months ago
Guess who's back
Anonymous 8 months ago
So sorry we couldn't make it. ;-; We both wish you the best in happiness and love, and that nothing can ever shake your bonds. Many congratulations on this beautiful day, you guys are the best. Wrote too much sappy stuff. Now I'm tearing up.
Anonymous 8 months ago
He leaned forward, resting his chin in his hands.(You are... You meanie... Dx)
Anonymous 8 months ago
Shut up. Dx
Anonymous 8 months ago
She sits down and grins to herself.
Anonymous 8 months ago
I was told the 25th D: <p> Aqua skipped in, smiling.