The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Read: 26 January, 2011

The Scarlet Letter is the classic story of a woman who dared to rebuke the mores of her Puritan society.What pop culture didn’t tell me was that the novel actually starts with a rather lengthy chapter from the perspective of the narrator, living in “modern times” (mid-19th century), and complaining about life as a customs house clerk.

The first part was absolutely wonderful. It read like one of the Sketches by Boz narratives, as an exposé of a particular job in a particular place. The characters were vividly drawn amid the narrator’s meandering thoughts and rants. It was everything I fell in love with about Victorian literature!

The more well-known portion of the story had a more standard Social Problem feel. A fallen woman wins over the reader and, perhaps, the novel’s community by being a perfect angel of the hearth, a self-sacrificing and nearly Christ-like in her perfection. We’ve seen this before in novels like Ruth and Oliver Twist. But Hawthorne pulls a fast one and martyr’s the male tango-dancer instead, allowing Hester to live and, presumably, to grow old.

I expected to have some trouble with this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything from the Victorian period (at least that was aimed at an adult audience). But I found The Scarlet Letter to be extremely engrossing. I read the whole thing in just a few days and enjoyed it immensely.

As a little side note, I read this book while very obviously pregnant. It was rather titillating to be in public reading a book that is famously known for being about promiscuity resulting in pregnancy while actually pregnant!

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