The Scarlet Letter

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781856954495
Publisher: Multilingua, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/01/1993
Edition description: Abridged, 2 Cassettes, 3 Hours
Product dimensions: 4.22(w) x 5.52(h) x 0.66(d)

About the Author

Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was an American novelist, poet, and short story writer best known for his works The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.

Graphic Arts Books is a book publisher based in Berkeley, CA, and brings exceptional books to both children and adult readers of fiction, cooking, history, memoir, nature and wildlife, photography, travel, and more, including the new Z Lit Classics series that presents favorite stories from classic literature repackaged in a luxe and beautiful design.

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

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 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, aprison. But, on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, 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 rose-bush, 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 over-shadowed it,-or whether, as there is fair authority for believing, it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Anne 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.

Chapter 2

The Market-Place


The grass-plot before the jail, in Prison Lane, on a certain summer morning, not less than two centuries ago, was occupied by a pretty large number of the inhabitants of Boston, all with their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door. Amongst any other population, or at a later period in the history of New England, the grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies of these good people would have augured some awful business in hand. It could have betokened nothing short of the anticipated execution of some noted culprit, on whom the sentence of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of public sentiment. But, in that early severity of the Puritan character, an inference of this kind could not so indubitably be drawn. It might be that a sluggish bond-servant, or an undutiful child, whom his parents had given over to the civil authority, was to be corrected at the whipping-post. It might be, that an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist was to be scourged out of the town, or an idle and vagrant Indian, whom the white man's fire-water had made riotous about the streets, was to be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest. It might be, too, that a witch, like old Mistress Hibbins, the bitter-tempered widow of the magistrate, was to die upon the gallows. In either case, there was very much the same solemnity of demeanor on the part of the spectators; as befitted a people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and the severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful. Meagre, indeed, and cold was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for from such by-standers, at the scaffold. On the other hand, a penalty, which, in our days, would infer a degree of mocking infamy and ridicule, might then be invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punishment of death itself.

It was a circumstance to be noted, on the summer morning when our story begins its course, that the women, of whom there were several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue. The age had not so much refinement, that any sense of impropriety restrained the wearers of petticoat and farthingale from stepping forth into the public ways, and wedging their not unsubstantial persons, if occasion were, into the throng nearest to the scaffold at an execution. Morally, as well as materially, there was a coarser fibre in those wives and maidens of old English birth and breeding, than in their fair descendants, separated from them by a series of six or seven generations; for, throughout that chain of ancestry, every successive mother has transmitted to her child a fainter bloom, a more delicate and briefer beauty, and a slighter physical frame, if not a character of less force and solidity, than her own. The women who were now standing about the prison-door stood within less than half a century of the period when the man-like Elizabeth1 had been the not altogether unsuitable representative of the sex. They were her countrywomen; and the beef and ale of their native land, with a moral diet not a whit more refined, entered largely into their composition. The bright morning sun, therefore, shone on broad shoulders and well-developed busts, and on round and ruddy cheeks, that had ripened in the far-off island, and had hardly yet grown paler or thinner in the atmosphere of New England. There was, moreover, a boldness and rotundity of speech among these matrons, as most of them seemed to be, that would startle us at the present day, whether in respect to its purport or its volume of tone.

"Goodwives," said a hard-featured dame of fifty, "I'll tell ye a
piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof, if we women, being of mature age and church-members in good repute, should have the handling of such malefactresses as this Hester Prynne. What think ye, gossips? If the hussy stood up for judgment before us five, that are now here in a knot together, would she come off with such a sentence as the worshipful magistrates have awarded? Marry, I trow not!"

"People say," said another, "that the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to heart that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation."

"The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but merciful overmuch,--that is a truth," added a third autumnal matron. "At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead. Madam Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. But she,-the naughty baggage,-little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever!"

"Ah, but," interposed, more softly, a young wife, holding a child by the hand, "let her cover the mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart."

"What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on the bodice of her gown, or the flesh of her forehead?" cried another female, the ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted judges. "This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly, there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book. Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thank themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray!"

"Mercy on us, goodwife," exclaimed a man in the crowd, "is there no virtue in woman, save what springs from a wholesome fear of the gallows? That is the hardest word yet! Hush, now, gossips! for the lock is turning in the prison-door, and here comes Mistress Prynne herself."

The door of the jail being flung open from within, there appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow emerging into sunshine, the grim and grisly presence of the town-beadle, with a sword by his side, and his staff of office in his hand. This personage prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritanic code of law, which it was his business to administer in its final and closest application to the offender. Stretching forth the official staff in his left hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young woman, whom he thus drew forward; until, on the threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will. She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day; because its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquainted only with the gray twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome apartment of the prison.

When the young woman-the mother of this child-stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her dress. In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbors. On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.

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, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days; characterized by a certain state and dignity, rather than by the delicate, evanescent, and indescribable grace, which is now recognized as its indication. And never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the prison. Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped. It may be true, that, to a sensitive observer, there was something exquisitely painful in it. Her attire, which, indeed, she had wrought for the occasion, in prison, and had modelled much after her own fancy, seemed to express the attitude of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its wild and picturesque peculiarity. 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 and illuminated5 upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.

"She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain," remarked one of her female spectators; "but did ever a woman, before this brazen hussy, contrive such a way of showing it! Why, gossips, what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates, and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a punishment?"

"It were well," muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames, "if we stripped Madam Hester's rich gown off her dainty shoulders; and as for the red letter, which she hath stitched so curiously, I'll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel, to make a fitter one!"

"Oh, peace, neighbors, peace!" whispered their youngest companion; "do not let her hear you! Not a stitch in that embroidered letter, but she has felt it in her heart."

The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff.

"Make way, good people, make way, in the King's name!" cried he. "Open a passage; and, I promise ye, Mistress Prynne shall be set where man, woman, and child may have a fair sight of her brave apparel, from this time till an hour past meridian. A blessing on the righteous Colony of the Massachusetts, where iniquity is dragged out into the sunshine! Come along, Madam Hester, and show your scarlet letter in the market-place!"

Table of Contents


Why read The Scarlet Letter?     8
Nathaniel Hawthorne 1804-1864     10
Timeline of the novel     12
The Custom-House     15
Hawthorne's Customs House     50
The Scarlet Letter     53
The Prison-Door     53
The Market-Place     55
Early Boston     64
The Recognition     66
The Interview     74
Medicine     80
Hester at Her Needle     82
Pearl     91
The Governor's Hall     100
The Elf-Child and the Minister     107
The Leech     115
Puritan religion     124
The Leech and His Patient     126
The Interior of a Heart     135
The Minister's Vigil     141
Another View of Hester     152
Puritan women     158
Hester and the Physician     160
Hester and Pearl     166
Crime and punishment     172
A Forest Walk     174
The Pastor and His Parishioner     180
A Flood of Sunshine     188
The Child at the Brook-Side     194
Witchcraft     200
TheMinister in a Maze     202
The New England Holiday     212
Transcendentalism     220
The Procession     222
The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter     232
Conclusion     240
Glossary     246
Discussion questions     268
Further reading     270
Acknowledgments     271

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.

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.

Interviews

"She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom."
— Nathaniel Hawthorne (quote from The Scarlet Letter )

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The Scarlet Letter 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 534 reviews.
fon_addict58 More than 1 year ago
I read this book in high school and reread it last week. It is one of those novels that improves over time and experience of the reader. I highly recommend this for all adults who read this as teens. Go back and look at the story with the eyes of someone who has experienced love and loss. It will change the way you thought about this wonderful book.
Bibliophile79 More than 1 year ago
This novel is considered to be one of the greats. Being an English Literature major, I felt I needed to read it. The synopsis is as follows: Hester Prynne, a woman living in Puritan New England, has had an affair with a man whose identity she refuses to reveal. From this union, Hester is impregnated, and the story opens on Hester holding the illegitimate child in her arms while standing on a scaffold in front of her entire town. As punishment for her adulterous act, Hester is sentenced to wear a large scarlet A on her breast for the rest of her life. As the rest of the story unfolds, the reader gains an understanding of Hester's true nature, as well as the nature of her child. This novel provides a clear view of life as a Puritan woman, yet I found it to be a bit "wordy" at times, often going off on tangents about nature or philosophy. By the end of the novel, I found myself not caring about any of the characters, even the child. Since this novel is taught in many high schools, perhaps I am missing something, and will read it again at a later time.
yomamaFL More than 1 year ago
This book was one big waste of time. I thought I was downloading the actual book, but not one page of the original book was there, just a boring review and commentary of the times.
buckeyeaholic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite classics.Colonial times. Woman whose husband is not with her a the time. Ooooops! Now she's pregnant! How did that happen?If you missed this must read in high school, you have to pick it up now. BTW...do not pick up the audio! It's horrible. I didn't like this guys voice before he started acting the parts of the characters. I couldn't even get past the first couple of 'pages' once he started using different voices. Some men just shouldn't try to do womens voices.
Krista23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great historical read.Two people's love that seemed destined to fail in great religious oppression in the town of Salem in Early America.
JosephJ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Still hold up even with all of its Puritan coloring. A strong female lead. Why is it that most strong-willed female characters end up either dead, commit suicide or are ostracized by their communities? Probably has something to do with those being the outcomes for strong-willed women in real life for some time. Great book, wonderful imagery.
RachelPenso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this as a "buddy read" with a friend and I am so glad I did. There are many classics that are hard for me to read, but this was not one of them.
philae_02 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I re-read this novel, which has been called the first psychological novel, as part of the Masterpiece Book Club at my local library. The first time that I had read it was back in high school, and I disliked it. Being 15 and reading such a complex novel, it was any wonder why I didn¿t like it.The character of Pearl transforms the most throughout the novel. She begins as a child of passion ¿ with her wild ways (symbolized by the red rose bush outside the prison) into a child of love and morality at the end when her father dies after finally confessing his sin seven years later. Back in high school, I didn¿t understand why Pearl was so naughty, but now I understand that she was the living embodiment of passion and wildness, that was so characteristic of her mother, Hester Prynne. Ultimately, Pearl becomes the moral compass of the novel ¿ she points towards Truth. And Truth is a badge of acknowledgement of the realities of the human imperfections ¿ especially in the Puritanical culture of shame.Now as an adult, the major themes speak volumes, as the author had originally intended. Not only is the archaic vocabulary easier to comprehend, but the overall themes of Morality and the importance of Truth reverberate throughout the ages¿making The Scarlet Letter one of those timeless novels.
evansjoy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The dense language and the inital slow pace eventually pay off--it's worth it. I'm glad I finally read it, but I'll tell you what: I'll think twice before teaching it again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
sits on the ground
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is garbled in many places and does not correspond to its table of contents. Hard to read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Storm was on? o.o
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anyone here.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey, all. Howre things going here?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Swag- swag Joker- not sure Gir- Alex Lightless- Liam Angel- Fang
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*stares at Xavier curiously and tilts head to side*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Umm hi Jewelia? Watches the snow fall
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bye bye
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Thanks! I owe you one.... whoever you are."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tehe. I be Pippin. *she disapoofs*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kk
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My face hurts.