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 Athe mark of an adulteressembroidered 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.
|Publisher:||Blackstone Audio, Inc.|
|Edition description:||Unabridged, 8 CDs, 9 hrs. 30 min.|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 5.70(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts. He was educated at the Bowdoin College in Maine (1821-24). Between the years 1825 and 1836 Hawthorne worked as a writer and contributor to periodicals. His first novel, Fanshawe, appeared anonymously at his own expense in 1828. In 1842 he married Sophia Peabody, an active participant in the Transcendentalist movement. His marriage to Sophia provided the inspiration for the noble character of Hester Prynne. He died in 1864.
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
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.
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
Hester at Her Needle 82
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
TheMinister in a Maze 202
The New England Holiday 212
The Procession 222
The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter 232
Discussion questions 268
Further reading 270
What People are Saying About This
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Taking up shelf space. However is cheaper to buy complete works of a classic author on nook often twenty books or so. Beware the 98 cents or free as they often have terrible format problems . The collections sometimes are a little difficult to access just keep track of page numbers if skips. Yes i have complete works of and no still havent read thru any boring and dated mom
this item was delivered in a timely manner and was in good condition. thanks
Fang? Are you okay?
"Yea, my school day sucked. My gym teacher complained about me cuz i was trying to fix my necklace"
*hums dark side by kelly clarkson*
Dude, i get half an hour on the computer every day...AFTER i practice piano. A fb account would be a bit pointless.
*she raises her hand proudly.* Me! xD And I give partial credit to Fang.
MOVING VEHICLE! *jumps onto shruken and flies away singing dont worry be happy by bob marley*
Hullo? Anybody on???
I am bisexual but guys treat me like garbage
I started out in the rp when percy was here
*she closed the howl sadly and nudged the other wolf. Her amber eyes sparkled friendily, telling him to cheer the f u c k up.**
Gets up behind and slits Andrews throat
'She falls into her hole and lays there'
*I peer down at u as u walk into the forest siting in a tree and i jump down landing infront of u in a crouching position onehand on the floor and i stand up and dust off my hands* hey
OH MY CRAP WHAT THE FREAKING PIG IS WRONG WITH YOU???
Who ever wants to ra.pe me go to ra.pre result twelve.
Gtg see u tommorow
I look at my belt and see one of my daggers missing." You're a nasty piece of work, aren't ya?"
This book is wonderful. Other than the fact that Nathaniel Hawthorne likes to explain everything in grueling detail which can get you lost sometimes, it really does give a large truth about the human condition.
its a good book, but it is very hard to read
Hawthorne was a much better short story writer than a novelist. I've read this book twice and have yet to understand why it is a classic. His stories like Wakefield and The Birthmark are far superior works.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, in writing The Scarlet Letter, took that which was considered so very taboo in the society and placed it in the household. He took a simple woman trying to escape her past, and a lonely man, who was also a preacher, and made them the models for the "it could happen to anyone" story. Many may say that Hawthorne's writing is full of glitches, is slow, and perhaps too ornate and verbose at times - but I disagree. In my opinion, he was an author who employed almost every literary technique, and used it well. The first chapter is probably the most difficult to get through, since it seems so detached from the rest of the book, but for those who are looking closely, it is full of foreshadowing elements and in reproducing the structure of the society in which the story is about to take place - Hawthorne is forewarning us of the limitations of said society, of how these rituals will come to be bane of Hester Prynne's existence, as the story unfolds. The story begins with Hester's public shaming,and her being made to wear a 'Scarlet letter' upon her bosom as a sign of her adulterous ways. Amongst the crowd, watching, is her husband Dr. Prynne, who now goes by the name of Roger Chillingworth. The plot is simple, Hester Prynne comes to live in a village near Boston, and there, she finds herself inexplicably for the town preacher. The town preacher, Reverend Dimmesdale, also falls in love with Hester. The husband, who was to follow Hester, a cruel and conniving man, is captured and considered dead which further fuels the level of intimacy between the Reverend and Hester. The result is an illegitimate child - although, Hester continually refuses to name the father of the child, for fear of the persecution that will result from this confession of her lover, the Reverend. While Hester remains ostracized from the society, her daughter and her both treated like the Plague, the Reverend wastes away with the guilt that he allowed Hester to take the entirety of the blame. He pines away for his love, and for his child, and becomes weak and disturbed. This only serves to add to the suspicions of Dr.Chillingworth, who is seeking to exact revenge on the man who had left his wife astray, and when he confirms his suspicions serves to fuel the Reverends self-hatred. The relationship between Hester and Dimmesdale is ever tender, but the relationship between Dimmesdale and his daughter Pearl is, although seemingly calm, tense and tortuous. Hawthorne paints his characters with such intensity, Hester's love and her patience, Pearl's innocence, Dimmesdale's self-loathing and guilt, and Chillingworth's jealousy and anger - and above all, the townsfolk's constant judgments. The novel is a classic, written in the way of a classic, full of eloquent prose, rich commentary and extremely descriptive. It is a slow and meticulous read, but also a very satisfying one. If you can get past the slow pace, and the alliterations and allegory, you will find yourself reading of a beautiful tale about love, passion, guilt, redemption...and above all, faith.
I had to read this book my freshman year of high school, I was actually glad that I read it though (and not just because it helped me with an AP English essay). I liked and was mad at Hester, I really wanted her to stick up for herself more while liking her for her bravery. The descriptions can be a little too lengthy and detailed for the reader's liking. This classic is good for people of all ages and both genders.