Cover image for The scarlet letter
Title:
The scarlet letter
Author:
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 1804-1864.
Edition:
2000 Modern Library paperback edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Modern Library, [2000]

©2000
Physical Description:
xx, 270 pages ; 21 cm.
Language:
English
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 11.7 14.0 716.
ISBN:
9780679783381
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Introduction by Kathryn Harrison
Commentary by Nathaniel Hawthorne, W. D. Howells, and Carl Van Doren
nbsp;
A stark tale of adultery, guilt, and social repression in Puritan New England, The Scarlet Letter is a foundational work of American literature. Nathaniel Hawthorne's exploration of the dichotomy between the public and private self, internal passion and external convention, gives us the unforgettable Hester Prynne, who discovers strength in the face of ostracism and emerges as a heroine ahead of her time. As Kathryn Harrison points out in her Introduction, Hester is "the herald of the modern heroine."
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Includes a Modern Library Reading Group Guide


Author Notes

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. When he was four years old, his father died. Years later, with financial help from his maternal relatives who recognized his literary talent, Hawthorne was able to enroll in Bowdoin College.

Among his classmates were the important literary and political figures Horatio Bridge, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Franklin Pierce. These friends supplied Hawthorne with employment during the early years after graduation while Hawthorne was still establishing himself as a legitimate author.

Hawthorne's first novel, Fanshawe, which he self-published in 1828, wasn't quite the success that he had hoped it would be. Not willing to give up, he began writing stories for Twice-Told Tales. These stories established Hawthorne as a leading writer.

In 1842, Hawthorne moved to Concord, Massachusetts, where he wrote a number of tales, including "Rappaccini's Daughter" and "Young Goodman Brown," that were later published as Mosses from an Old Manse. The overall theme of Hawthorne's novels was a deep concern with ethical problems of sin, punishment, and atonement. No one novel demonstrated that more vividly than The Scarlet Letter. This tale about the adulterous Puritan Hester Prynne is regarded as Hawthorne's best work and is a classic of American literature. Other famous novels written by Hawthorne include The House of Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance.

In 1852, Hawthorne wrote a campaign biography of his college friend Franklin Pierce. After Pierce was elected as President of the United States, he rewarded Hawthorne with the Consulship at Liverpool, England. Hawthorne died in his sleep on May 19, 1864, while on a trip with Franklin Pierce.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Barry Moser's illustrations of classic literature have themselves become classic. The moody, intricate woodcuts seem to suit all his subjects, from Moby Dick to the works of Lewis Carroll. These latest two releases join Huckleberry Finn and several others in the library of facsimiles of limited editions originally published by Moser's own Pennyroyal Press. Little is lost in the translation; the artwork is integrated effectively into the overall design of these handsome, well-made volumes. Moser's expressive portraits are especially effective in The Scarlet Letter: in our first look at Arthur Dimmesdale, for example, a terrifying shadow crosses one side of his handsome, suppliant face. In the Washington Irving collection, a kindly faced Rip and the wild-eyed animals of Sleepy Hollow are paired with the ever-popular tales, providing an appropriate outlet for Moser's underlying humor. DGR.


School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-Actress Elizabeth McGovern reads this acceptable abridgement with precise, clear diction. Her expressive voice is pleasant, effectively using breath sounds and pauses to recreate dramatic moods. Her usually quick tempo keeps the text from being ponderous, but it can be slower when necessary. Given the time period of the original work, her formal tone is appropriate. Her speech changes slightly for the different characters, but there is not much dialogue. The abridgement retains the continuity of the story. Consider purchasing this version for special education students who can't handle the longer, original text.-Claudia Moore, W.T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

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 simply suffered 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.... Excerpted from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.