The Scarlet Letter,Level 2

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Overview

When it first appeared in 1850, The Scarlet Letter enjoyed scandalous success. New England critics condemned its passionate subject matter. One critic complained that Nathaniel Hawthorne invested adultery with all the fascination of genius, and all the charms of a highly polished style. My preliminary chapter, wryly noted the author, has caused the greatest uproar that has happened here since witch-times.

As she emerges from the prison of a ...
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The Scarlet Letter

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Overview

When it first appeared in 1850, The Scarlet Letter enjoyed scandalous success. New England critics condemned its passionate subject matter. One critic complained that Nathaniel Hawthorne invested adultery with all the fascination of genius, and all the charms of a highly polished style. My preliminary chapter, wryly noted the author, has caused the greatest uproar that has happened here since witch-times.

As she emerges from the prison of a Puritan New England town, Hester Prynne defies the dark gloom much as the rose blooms against the prison door. With her illegitimate baby, Pearl, clutched in her arms and the letter A—the mark of an adulteress—embroidered in scarlet thread on her breast, Hester holds her head high as she faces the malice and scorn of the townsfolk. Her powerful, bittersweet story is an American classic that continues to touch the hearts of modern readers with its timeless themes of guilt, passion and repentance.

In early colonial Massachusetts, a young woman endures the consequences of her sin of adultery and spends the rest of her life in atonement.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Readable edition with a strong, clear introduction. It will be most helpful to my students."--Robert Donahoo, Sam Houston State University

Sheppard Jacinto
“A quick read. A great read. What makes this series of classics so successful is the way they have been lovingly crafted. Near perfect, they honor their source material and capture the humor, the drama, the passion, the excitement, the sheer narrative exuberance, that have made each of these works timeless classics.”

--Sheppard Jacinto
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.
D. H. Lawrence
There could be not be a more perfect work of the American imagination than The Scarlet Letter.
From Barnes & Noble
Hawthorne's masterpiece about Hester Prynne, hapless victim of sin, guilt and hypocrisy in Puritan New England.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812504835
  • Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
  • Publication date: 8/28/1989
  • Series: Tor Classics Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Complete and Unabridged
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 547,009
  • Lexile: 1340L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.24 (w) x 6.76 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was an American novelist and short story writer. Nathaniel Hathorne was born in 1804 in the city of Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hathorne and Elizabeth Clarke Manning Hathorne. His ancestors include John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials. Nathaniel later added a "w" to make his name "Hawthorne". He entered Bowdoin College in 1821, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1824, and graduated in 1825. Hawthorne anonymously published his first work, a novel titled Fanshawe, in 1828. He published several short stories in various periodicals which he collected in 1837 as Twice-Told Tales. The next year, he became engaged to Sophia Peabody. He worked at a Custom House and joined Brook Farm, a transcendentalist community, before marrying Peabody in 1842. The couple moved to The Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts, later moving to Salem, the Berkshires, then to The Wayside in Concord. The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850, followed by a succession of other novels. A political appointment took Hawthorne and family to Europe before their return to The Wayside in 1860. Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, leaving behind his wife and their three children. Much of Hawthorne's writing centers on New England, many works featuring moral allegories with a Puritan inspiration. His fiction works are considered part of the Romantic Movement and, more specifically, dark romanticism. His themes often center on the inherent evil and sin of humanity, and his works often have moral messages and deep psychological complexity. His published works include novels, short stories, and a biography of his friend Franklin Pierce.

Biography

Nathaniel Hathorne, Jr., was born into an established New England puritan family on Independence Day, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts. After the sudden death of his father, he and his mother and sisters moved in with his mother's family in Salem. Nathaniel's early education was informal; he was home-schooled by tutors until he enrolled in Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Uninterested in conventional professions such as law, medicine, or the ministry, Nathaniel chose instead to rely "for support upon my pen." After graduation, he returned to his hometown, wrote short stories and sketches, and chanced the spelling of his surname to "Hawthorne." Hawthorne's coterie consisted of transcendentalist thinkers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Although he did not subscribe entirely to the group's philosophy, he lived for six months at Brook Farm, a cooperative living community the transcendentalists established in West Roxbury, Massachusetts.

On July 9, 1942, Hawthorne married a follower of Emerson, Sophia Peabody, with whom he had a daughter, Una, and a son, Julian. The couple purchased a mansion in Concord, Massachusetts, that previously had been occupied by author Louisa May Alcott. Frequently in financial difficulty, Hawthorne worked at the custom houses in Salem and Boston to support his family and his writing. His peaceful life was interrupted when his college friend, Franklin Pierce, now president of the United States, appointed him U.S. consul at Liverpool, England, where he served for four years.

The publication of The Scarlet Letter in 1850 changed the way society viewed Puritanism. Considered his masterpiece, the novel focuses on Hawthorne's recurrent themes of sin, guilt, and punishment. Some critics have attributed his sense of guilt to his ancestors' connection with the persecution of Quakers in seventeenth-century New England and their prominent role in the Salem witchcraft trials in the 1690s.

On May 19, 1864, Hawthorne died in Plymouth, New Hampshire, leaving behind several unfinished novels that were published posthumously. He is buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Scarlet Letter.

Good To Know

Hawthorne's birth name was actually Nathaniel Hathorne. It's rumored that he added a "w" to avoid being associated with his Puritan grandfather, Judge Hathorne -- who presided over the Salem Witch Trials.

Among Hawthorne's peers at Maine's Bowdoin College: author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Franklin Pierce, who would later become the country's 14th president.

In its first week of publication, The Scarlet Letter sold 4,000 copies.

Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, at the Pemigewasset House in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Ironically, former president Franklin Pierce had advised him to go there for his health.

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

Read an Excerpt

Scarlet Letter, The

1

The Prison Door

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.

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison. In accordance with this rule, it may safely be assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built the first prison house somewhere in the vicinity of Cornhill almost as seasonably as they marked out the first burial ground, on Isaac Johnson's lot and round about his grave, which subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated sepulchres in the old churchyard of King's Chapel. Certain it is that,some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town, the wooden jail was already marked with weather-stains and other indications of age which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front. The rust on the ponderous iron-work of its oaken door looked more antique than anything else in the New World. Like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era. Before this ugly edifice, and between it and the wheel-track of the street, was a grass plot, much overgrown with burdock, pigweed, apple peru, and such unsightly vegetation, which evidently found something congenial in the soil that had so early borne the black flower of civilized society, a prison. But on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rosebush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.

This rosebush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history; but whether it had merely survived out of the stern old wilderness, so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaks that originally overshadowed it—or whether, as there is fair authority for believing, it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson, as she entered the prison door—we shall not take upon us to determine. Finding it so directly on the threshold of our narrative, which is now about to issue from that inauspicious portal, we could hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers, and present it to the reader. It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.

All new material in this edition is copyright © 1989 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Michael J. Colacurcio Colacurcio, Michael J.

History in The Scarlet Letter

Note on the Text

Chronology of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Life

The Scarlet Letter

Selected Bibliography

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Reading Group Guide

Hailed by Henry James as "the finest piece  of imaginative writing yet put forth in the  country," Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet  Letter reaches to our nation's  historical and moral roots for the material of great  tragedy. Set in an early New England colony, the novel  shows the terrible impact a single, passionate act  has on the lives of three members of the  community: the defiant Hester Prynne; the fiery, tortured  Reverend Dimmesdale; and the obsessed, vengeful  Chillingworth.

With The Scarlet  Letter, Hawthorne became the first American  novelist to forge from our Puritan heritage a  universal classic, a masterful exploration of  humanity's unending struggle with sin, guilt and pride.


From the Paperback edition.
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Customer Reviews

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