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The Scarlet Letter  
Title page for The Scarlet Letter.jpg
Title page, first edition, 1850
Author Nathaniel Hawthorne
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Ticknor, Reed & Fields
Publication date 1850
Pages 232

The Scarlet Letter (1850) is a novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, considered to be his "magnum opus", or most famous work.[1] Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who gives birth after committing adultery and struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity. Throughout the novel, Hawthorne explores themes of legalism, sin, and guilt.

Contents

Plot summary

The novel takes place during the summer in 17th-century Boston, Massachusetts in a Puritan village. A young woman, named Hester Prynne, has been led from the town prison with her infant daughter in her arms and on the breast of her gown "a rag of scarlet cloth" that "assumed the shape of a letter." It was the uppercase letter "A". The Scarlet Letter "A" represents the act of adultery that she has committed and it is to be a symbol of her sin—a badge of shame—for all to see. A man in the crowd tells an elderly onlooker that Hester is being punished for adultery. Hester's husband, who is much older than she, and whose real name is unknown, has sent her ahead to America whilst settling affairs in Europe. However, her husband does not arrive in Boston, and the consensus is that he has been lost at sea. It is apparent that, while waiting for her husband, Hester has had an affair, leading to the birth of her daughter. She will not reveal her lover's identity, however, and the scarlet letter, along with her subsequent public shaming, is the punishment for her sin and secrecy. On this day Hester is led to the town scaffold and harangued by the town fathers, but she again refuses to identify her child's father.[2]

The elderly onlooker is Hester's missing husband, who is now practicing medicine and calling himself Roger Chillingworth. He settles in Boston, intent on revenge. He reveals his true identity to no one but Hester, whom he has sworn to secrecy. Several years pass. Hester supports herself by working as a seamstress, and her daughter Pearl grows into a willful, impish child—in Hawthorne's work, Pearl is more of a symbol than an actual character—and is said to be the scarlet letter come to life as both Hester's love and her punishment. Shunned by the community, they live in a small cottage on the outskirts of Boston. Community officials attempt to take Pearl away from Hester, but with the help of Arthur Dimmesdale, an eloquent minister, the mother and daughter manage to stay together. Dimmesdale, however, appears to be wasting away and suffers from mysterious heart trouble, seemingly caused by psychological distress. Chillingworth attaches himself to the ailing minister and eventually moves in with him so that he can provide his patient with round-the-clock care. Chillingworth also suspects that there may be a connection between the minister's torments and Hester's secret, and he begins to test Dimmesdale to see what he can learn. One afternoon, while the minister sleeps, Chillingworth discovers something undescribed to the reader, supposedly an "A" burned into Dimmesdale's chest, which convinces him that his suspicions are correct.[2]

The Scarlet Letter. Painting by T. H. Matteson. This 1860 oil-on-canvas may have been made with Hawthorne's advice.[2]

Dimmesdale's psychological anguish deepens, and he invents new tortures for himself. In the meantime, Hester's charitable deeds and quiet humility have earned her a reprieve from the scorn of the community. One night, when Pearl is about seven years old, she and her mother are returning home from a visit to the deathbed of John Winthrop when they encounter Dimmesdale atop the town scaffold, trying to punish himself for his sins. Hester and Pearl join him, and the three link hands. Dimmesdale refuses Pearl's request that he acknowledge her publicly the next day, and a meteor marks a dull red "A" in the night sky. It is interpreted by the townsfolk to mean Angel, as a prominent figure in the community had died that night, but Dimmesdale sees it as meaning adultery. Hester can see that the minister's condition is worsening, and she resolves to intervene. She goes to Chillingworth and asks him to stop adding to Dimmesdale's self-torment. Chillingworth refuses. She suggests that she may reveal his true identity to Dimmesdale.[2]

Later in the story, while walking through the forest, the sun would not shine on Hester, although Pearl could bask in it. They then encounter Dimmesdale, as he is taking a walk in the woods that day. Hester informs Dimmesdale of the true identity of Chillingworth and the former lovers decide to flee to Europe, where they can live with Pearl as a family. They will take a ship sailing from Boston in four days. Both feel a sense of release, and Hester removes her scarlet letter and lets down her hair. The sun immediately breaks through the clouds and trees to illuminate her release and joy. Pearl, playing nearby, does not recognize her mother without the letter. She is unnerved and expels a shriek until her mother points out the letter on the ground. Hester beckons Pearl to come to her, but Pearl will not go to her mother until Hester buttons the letter back onto her dress. Pearl then goes to her mother. Dimmesdale gives Pearl a kiss on the forehead, which Pearl immediately tries to wash off in the brook, because he again refuses to make known publicly their relationship. However, he too clearly feels a release from the pretense of his former life, and the laws and sins he has lived with.

The day before the ship is to sail, the townspeople gather for a holiday put on in honor of an election and Dimmesdale preaches his most eloquent sermon ever. Meanwhile, Hester has learned that Chillingworth knows of their plan and has booked passage on the same ship. Dimmesdale, leaving the church after his sermon, sees Hester and Pearl standing before the town scaffold. He impulsively mounts the scaffold with his lover and his daughter, and confesses publicly, exposing the mark supposedly seared into the flesh of his chest. He falls dead just after Pearl kisses him.[2]

Frustrated in his revenge, Chillingworth dies a year later. Hester and Pearl leave Boston, and no one knows what has happened to them. Many years later, Hester returns alone, still wearing the scarlet letter, to live in her old cottage and resumes her charitable work. She receives occasional letters from Pearl, who was rumored to have married a European aristocrat and established a family of her own. Pearl also inherits all of Chillingworth's money even though he knows she is not his daughter. There is a sense of liberation in her and the townspeople, especially the women, who had finally begun to forgive Hester of her tragic indiscretion. When Hester dies, she is buried in "a new grave near an old and sunken one, in that burial ground beside which King's Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and sunken grave, yet with a space between, as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet one tombstone served for both." The tombstone was decorated with a letter "A", for Hester and Dimmesdale.

Major themes

Sin

The experience of Hester and Dimmesdale recalls the story of Adam and Eve because, in both cases, sin results in expulsion and suffering. But it also results in knowledge—specifically, in knowledge of what it means to be human. For Hester, the scarlet letter functions as "her passport into regions where other women dared not tread", leading her to "speculate" about her society and herself more "boldly" than anyone else in New England.[3]

As for Dimmesdale, the "cheating minister" of his sin gives him "sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind, so that his chest vibrate[s] in unison with theirs." His eloquent and powerful sermons derive from this sense of empathy.[3] The narrative of the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is quite in keeping with the oldest and most fully authorized principles in Christian thought. His "Fall" is a descent from apparent grace to his own damnation; he appears to begin in purity. He ends in corruption. The subtlety is that the minister is his own deceiver, convincing himself at every stage of his spiritual pilgrimage that he is saved.[4]

The rosebush, its beauty a striking contrast to all that surrounds it—as later the beautifully embroidered scarlet A will be–is held out in part as an invitation to find "some sweet moral blossom" in the ensuing, tragic tale and in part as an image that "the deep heart of nature" (perhaps God) may look more kindly on the errant Hester and her child than her Puritan neighbors do. Throughout the work, the nature images contrast with the stark darkness of the Puritans and their systems.[5]

Chillingworth's misshapen body reflects (or symbolizes) the anger in his soul, which builds as the novel progresses, similar to the way Dimmesdale's illness reveals his inner turmoil. The outward man reflects the condition of the heart.[5]

Although Pearl is a complex character, her primary function within the novel is as a symbol. Pearl herself is the embodiment of the scarlet letter, and Hester rightly clothes her in a beautiful dress of scarlet, embroidered with gold thread, just like the scarlet letter upon Hester's bosom.[3] Parallels can be drawn between Pearl and the character Beatrice in Rappaccini's Daughter. Both are studies in the same direction, though from different standpoints. Beatrice is nourished upon poisonous plants, until she herself becomes poisonous. Pearl, in the mysterious prenatal world, imbibes the poison of her parents' guilt.

Past and present

The clashing of past and present is explored in various ways. For example, the character of the old General, whose heroic qualities include a distinguished name, perseverance, integrity, compassion, and moral inner strength, is said to be "the soul and spirit of New England hardihood". Now put out to pasture, he sometimes presides over the Custom House run by corrupt public servants, who skip work to sleep, allow or overlook smuggling, and are supervised by an inspector with "no power of thought, nor depth of feeling, no troublesome sensibilities", who is honest enough but without a spiritual compass.[5]

Hawthorne himself had ambivalent feelings about the role of his ancestors in his life. In his autobiographical sketch, Hawthorne described his ancestors as "dim and dusky", "grave, bearded, sable-cloaked, and steel crowned", "bitter persecutors" whose "better deeds" would be diminished by their bad ones. There can be little doubt of Hawthorne's disdain for the stern morality and rigidity of the Puritans, and he imagined his predecessors' disdainful view of him: unsuccessful in their eyes, worthless and disgraceful. "A writer of story books!" But even as he disagrees with his ancestors' viewpoint, he also feels an instinctual connection to them and, more importantly, a "sense of place" in Salem. Their blood remains in his veins, but their intolerance and lack of humanity becomes the subject of his novel.[5]

Publication history

Hawthorne originally planned The Scarlet Letter to be a shorter novelette which was part of a collection to be named Old Time Legends. His publisher, James Thomas Fields, convinced him to expand the novelette to a full-length novel.[6] Hawthorne's wife Sophia later disputed that Fields had a larger role than this, complaining that "he has made the absurd boast that he was the sole cause of the Scarlet Letter being published!" She noted that her husband's friend Edwin Percy Whipple, a critic, approached Fields to consider its publication.[7]

The Scarlet Letter was published as a novel in the spring of 1850 by Ticknor & Fields, beginning Hawthorne's most lucrative period.[8] When he delivered the final pages to Fields in February 1850, Hawthorne said that "some portions of the book are powerfully written" but doubted it would be popular.[9] In fact, the book was an instant best-seller[10] though, over fourteen years, it brought its author only $1,500.[8] Its initial publication brought wide protest from natives of Salem, who did not approve of how Hawthorne had depicted them in his introduction "The Custom-House". A 2,500-copy second edition of The Scarlet Letter included a preface by Hawthorne dated March 30, 1850, that he had decided to reprint his introduction "without the change of a word... The only remarkable features of the sketch are its frank and genuine good-humor... As to enmity, or ill-feeling of any kind, personal or political, he utterly disclaims such motives".[11]

The book's immediate and lasting success are due to the way it addresses spiritual and moral issues from a uniquely American standpoint.[citation needed] In 1850, adultery was an extremely risqué subject, but because Hawthorne had the support of the New England literary establishment, it passed easily into the realm of appropriate reading. It has been said that this work represents the height of Hawthorne's literary genius; dense with terse descriptions. It remains relevant for its philosophical and psychological depth, and continues to be read as a classic tale on a universal theme.[12]

The Scarlet Letter was also one of the first mass-produced books in America. Into the mid-nineteenth century, bookbinders of home-grown literature typically hand-made their books and sold them in small quantities. The first mechanized printing of The Scarlet Letter, 2,500 volumes, sold out within ten days,[8] and was widely read and discussed to an extent not much experienced in the young country up until that time. Copies of the first edition are often sought by collectors as rare books, and may fetch up to around $6,000 USD.

Critical response

On its publication, critic Evert Augustus Duyckinck, a friend of Hawthorne's, said he preferred the author's Washington Irving-like tales. Another friend, critic Edwin Percy Whipple, objected to the novel's "morbid intensity" with dense psychological details, writing that the book "is therefore apt to become, like Hawthorne, too painfully anatomical in his exhibition of them".[13] On the other hand, 20th century writer D. H. Lawrence said that there could be no more perfect work of the American imagination than The Scarlet Letter.[14] Henry James once said of the novel, "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."[15]

Allusions

In popular culture

  • 1917: A black-and-white silent film directed by Carl Harbaugh with Mary G. Martin as Hester Prynne
  • 1926: A silent movie directed by Victor Sjostrom and starring Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson
  • 1934: A film directed by Robert G. Vignola and starring Colleen Moore
  • 1958–59: An opera by Robin Milford
  • 1973: Der Scharlachrote Buchstabe, a film in German directed by Wim Wenders
  • 1979: PBS version starring Meg Foster and John Heard
  • 1994: A rock musical, "The Scarlet Letter", written by Mark Governor, is produced in Los Angeles.
  • 1995: The Scarlet Letter, a film directed by Roland Joffé and starring Demi Moore as Hester and Gary Oldman as Arthur Dimmesdale. This version is "freely adapted" from Hawthorne according to the opening credits and takes liberties with the original story.
  • The Red Letter Plays (In The Blood produced in 1999, and F---ing A, produced in 2000) by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, adapts elements and themes from the novel as the basis for the two contemporary plays.
  • 2001: A musical stage adaptation which premiered at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, by Stacey Mancine, Daniel Koloski, and Simon Gray
  • 2001: The band Tool alludes to the novel in the song "The Grudge" on their album Lateralus with the line "unable to forgive your scarlet letterman."
  • 2004: The Scarlet Letter, a Korean noir-thriller featuring an adulteress's monologue that mentions a plan to raise her unborn child as Pearl in America in a desperate plea to exit her obsessive affair
  • 2004: Quoted in One Tree Hill Season 2 episode "Don't Take Me For Granted" "Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote: 'no man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without getting bewildered as to which one may be the true' "
  • 2005: The Christian band Casting Crowns released a song titled "Does Anybody Hear Her", which mentions the Scarlet Letter and matches up with the story of Hester Prynne almost perfectly.
  • 2005: The Brooklyn Follies novel by Paul Auster involves a plot to forge an original manuscript of The Scarlet Letter. One of the characters claims that the original manuscript was lost—possibly "burned, either by Hawthorne himself, or in a warehouse fire. Others say the printers simply threw the sheets in the garbage—or else used them to light their pipes".
  • 2007: The deathcore band As Blood Runs Black released a song titled "Hester Prynne" on their album Allegiance.
  • 2007: The Terpsicorps Ballet Company of Asheville, NC interprets The Scarlet Letter.
  • 2007: It is featured in the movie Dan in Real Life being read by Dan's daughter, Jane.
  • 2008: shAme, a rock opera by Mark Governor based on "The Scarlet Letter" premieres in Los Angeles. It is a major reworking of his 1994 stage musical that was also produced in Boston in 2000 and as a radio production in Berlin in 2005. The 2000 version was endorsed and presented by the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society.[16]
  • 2008: University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas presents the first regular opera adaptation of The Scarlet Letter.
  • 2008: Mudvayne released a song called "Scarlet Letters" in the album "The New Game" which was released November 18, 2008.
  • 2008: Mystery Dope wrote a song called "The Ballad Of Hester Prynne".
  • 2008: Taylor Swift wrote the song "Love Story," mentioning "a scarlet letter."
  • 2010: Easy A a film adapted from the book, directed by Will Gluck and starring Emma Stone. A high school girl sees her life reflecting Hester Prynne.
  • 2010: Paula Reed published the book "Hester, The Missing Years of 'The Scarlett Letter'", a novel/fantasy, filling in the missing years between Hester and Pearl's disappearance from Boston and Hester's return late in life.
  • 2010: Hester Prynne A Crunk/Death Metal/Metal band from Kansas City, Kansas.

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ National Public Radio (NPR): March 2, 2008, Sunday. SHOW: Weekend All Things Considered. "Sinner, Victim, Object, Winner" ANCHORS: JACKI LYDEN http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=87805369 (quote in article refers to it as his "masterwork", listen to the audio to hear it the original reference to it being his "magnum opus")
  2. ^ a b c d e Hawthorne, Nathaniel (May 2, 1994). The Scarlet Letter (reissue ed.). New York: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-28048-9. 
  3. ^ a b c The Scarlet Letter - Sparknotes
  4. ^ Davidson, E.H. 1963. Dimmesdale's Fall. The New England Quarterly 36: 358–370
  5. ^ a b c d e The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne - CliffNotes from Yahoo!Education
  6. ^ Charvat, William. Literary Publishing in America: 1790–1850. Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1993 (first published 1959): 56. ISBN 0-87023-801-9
  7. ^ Wineapple, Brenda. Hawthorne: A Life. Random House: New York, 2003: 209–210. ISBN 0-8129-7291-0.
  8. ^ a b c McFarland, Philip. Hawthorne in Concord. New York: Grove Press, 2004. p. 136. ISBN 0-8021-1776-7
  9. ^ Miller, Edwin Haviland. Salem is my Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991: 299. ISBN 0-87745-332-2
  10. ^ Cheevers, Susan (2006). American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau; Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work. Detroit: Thorndike Press. Large print edition. p. 181. ISBN 0-7862-9521-X
  11. ^ Miller, Edwin Haviland. Salem is my Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991: 301. ISBN 0-87745-332-2
  12. ^ The Classic Text: Traditions and Interpretations
  13. ^ Miller, Edwin Haviland. Salem is my Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991: 301–302. ISBN 0-87745-332-2
  14. ^ Miller, Edwin Haviland. Salem is my Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991: 284. ISBN 0-87745-332-2
  15. ^ James, Henry (1901). "it+has+in+the+highest+degree+that+merit" Hawthorne. Harper. pp. 108, 116. http://books.google.com/books?id=Nj_bTCepzHQC&pg=PA108&dq="it+has+in+the+highest+degree+that+merit". Retrieved 18 February 2010. 
  16. ^ http://www.citysoundmusic.com/projects/shAme.html

Bibliography

  • Brodhead, Richard H. Hawthorne, Melville, and the Novel. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1973.
  • Brown, Gillian. "'Hawthorne, Inheritance, and Women's Property", Studies in the Novel 23.1 (Spring 1991): 107-18.
  • Cañadas, Ivan. "A New Source for the Title and Some Themes in The Scarlet Letter". Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 32.1 (Spring 2006): 43–51.
  • Korobkin, Laura Haft. "The Scarlet Letter of the Law: Hawthorne and Criminal Justice". Novel: a Forum on Fiction 30.2 (Winter 1997): 193–217.
  • Gartner, Matthew. "The Scarlet Letter and the Book of Esther: Scriptural Letter and Narrative Life". Studies in American Fiction 23.2 (Fall 1995): 131-51.
  • Newberry, Frederick. Tradition and Disinheritance in The Scarlet Letter". ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 23 (1977), 1–26; repr. in: The Scarlet Letter. W. W. Norton, 1988: pp. 231-48.
  • Reid, Alfred S. Sir Thomas Overbury's Vision (1616) and Other English Sources of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'The Scarlet Letter. Gainesville, FL: Scholar's Facsimiles and Reprints, 1957.
  • Reid, Bethany. "Narrative of the Captivity and Redemption of Roger Prynne: Rereading The Scarlet Letter". Studies in the Novel 33.3 (Fall 2001): 247-67.
  • Ryskamp, Charles. "The New England Sources of The Scarlet Letter". American Literature 31 (1959): 257–72; repr. in: "The Scarlet Letter", 3rd edn. Norton, 1988: 191–204.
  • Savoy, Eric. "'Filial Duty': Reading the Patriarchal Body in 'The Custom House'". Studies in the Novel 25.4 (Winter 1993): 397–427.
  • Sohn, Jeonghee. Rereading Hawthorne's Romance: The Problematics of Happy Endings. American Studies Monograph Series, 26. Seoul: American Studies Institute, Seoul National University, 2001; 2002.
  • Stewart, Randall (Ed.) The American Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Based upon the original Manuscripts in the Piermont Morgan Library. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932.
  • Waggoner, Hyatt H. Hawthorne: A Critical Study, 3rd edn. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Nathaniel Hawthorne article)

From Wikiquote

The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the truest heroism is, to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (4 July 180419 May 1864) was a 19th-century American novelist and short story writer, best-known today for his many short stories and his romance novels The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance, and The Marble Faun.

Contents

Sourced

It is one of those symbolic scenes, which lead the mind to the sentiment, though not to the conception, of Omnipotence.
Let us forget the other names of American statesmen, that have been stamped upon these hills, but still call the loftiest — WASHINGTON.
Mountains are Earth's undecaying monuments. They must stand while she endures, and never should be consecrated to the mere great men of their own age and country, but to the mighty ones alone, whose glory is universal, and whom all time will render illustrious.
Our Creator would never have made such lovely days, and have given us the deep hearts to enjoy them, above and beyond all thought, unless we were meant to be immortal.
When the Artist rises high enough to achieve the Beautiful, the symbol by which he makes it perceptible to mortal senses becomes of little value in his eyes, while his spirit possesses itself in the enjoyment of the reality.
  • Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever.
  • Long, long may it be, ere he comes again! His hour is one of darkness, and adversity, and peril. But should domestic tyranny oppress us, or the invader's step pollute our soil, still may the Gray Champion come, for he is the type of New England's hereditary spirit; and his shadowy march, on the eve of danger, must ever be the pledge, that New England's sons will vindicate their ancestry.
  • By the sympathy of your human hearts for sin ye shall scent out all the places — whether in church, bedchamber, street, field, or forest — where crime has been committed, and shall exult to behold the whole earth one stain of guilt, one mighty blood spot.
  • In old times, the settlers used to be astounded by the inroads of the northern Indians, coming down upon them from this mountain rampart, through some defile known only to themselves. It is indeed a wondrous path. A demon, it might be fancied, or one of the Titans, was travelling up the valley, elbowing the heights carelessly aside as he passed, till at length a great mountain took its stand directly across his intended road. He tarries not for such an obstacle, but rending it asunder, a thousand feet from peak to base, discloses its treasures of hidden minerals, its sunless waters, all the secrets of the mountain's inmost heart, with a mighty fracture of rugged precipices on each side. This is the Notch of the White Hills. Shame on me, that I have attempted to describe it by so mean an image — feeling, as I do, that it is one of those symbolic scenes, which lead the mind to the sentiment, though not to the conception, of Omnipotence.
  • Let us forget the other names of American statesmen, that have been stamped upon these hills, but still call the loftiest — WASHINGTON. Mountains are Earth's undecaying monuments. They must stand while she endures, and never should be consecrated to the mere great men of their own age and country, but to the mighty ones alone, whose glory is universal, and whom all time will render illustrious.
  • As the moral gloom of the world overpowers all systematic gaiety, even so was their home of wild mirth made desolate amid the sad forest.
  • As far as my experience goes, men of genius are fairly gifted with the social qualities; and in this age, there appears to be a fellow-feeling among them, which had not heretofore been developed. As men, they ask nothing better than to be on equal terms with their fellow-men; and as authors, they have thrown aside their proverbial jealousy, and acknowledge a generous brotherhood.
    • "The Hall of Fantasy" (1843)
  • She poured out the liquid music of her voice to quench the thirst of his spirit.
  • "What is the Unpardonable Sin?" asked the lime-burner; and then he shrank farther from his companion, trembling lest his question should be answered. "It is a sin that grew within my own breast," replied Ethan Brand, standing erect with a pride that distinguishes all enthusiasts of his stamp. "A sin that grew nowhere else! The sin of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God, and sacrificed everything to its own mighty claims!
  • The book, if you would see anything in it, requires to be read in the clear, brown, twilight atmosphere in which it was written; if opened in the sunshine, it is apt to look exceedingly like a volume of blank pages.
In youth men are apt to write more wisely than they really know or feel; and the remainder of life may be not idly spent in realizing and convincing themselves of the wisdom which they uttered long ago.
  • How slowly I have made my way in life! How much is still to be done! How little worth — outwardly speaking — is all that I have achieved! The bubble reputation is as much a bubble in literature as in war, and I should not be one whit the happier if mine were world-wide and time-long than I was when nobody but yourself had faith in me.
    The only sensible ends of literature are, first, the pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one's family and friends; and, lastly, the solid cash.
  • When the Artist rises high enough to achieve the Beautiful, the symbol by which he makes it perceptible to mortal senses becomes of little value in his eyes, while his spirit possesses itself in the enjoyment of the reality.
  • The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the truest heroism is, to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed.
  • It is because the spirit is inestimable that the lifeless body is so little valued.
    • The Blithedale Romance, Chapter 28
  • In youth men are apt to write more wisely than they really know or feel; and the remainder of life may be not idly spent in realizing and convincing themselves of the wisdom which they uttered long ago.
  • America is now wholly given over to a d--d mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash — and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed. What is the mystery of these innumerable editions of the Lamplighter, and other books neither better nor worse? — worse they could not be, and better they need not be, when they sell by 100,000.
Nobody, I think, ought to read poetry, or look at pictures or statues, who cannot find a great deal more in them than the poet or artist has actually expressed.
  • No author, without a trial, can conceive of the difficulty of writing a romance about a country where there is no shadow, no antiquity, no mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor anything but a commonplace prosperity, in broad and simple daylight, as is happily the case with my dear native land. It will be very long, I trust, before romance writers may find congenial and easily handled themes, either in the annals of our stalwart republic, or in any characteristic and probable events of our individual lives. Romance and poetry, ivy, lichens and wallflowers need ruin to make them grow.
  • Nobody has any conscience about adding to the improbabilities of a marvelous tale.
    • The Marble Faun, Chapter IV: The Spectre of the Catacomb
  • Nobody, I think, ought to read poetry, or look at pictures or statues, who cannot find a great deal more in them than the poet or artist has actually expressed.
    • The Marble Faun, Chapter XLI: Snowdrops and Maidenly Delights

Notebooks

The American Notebooks (1835 - 1853)

Passages from the American Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1868) by Sophia Hawthorne, earlier published in The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 18, no. 110, December 1866
Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally...
  • Every individual has a place to fill in the world, and is important, in some respect, whether he chooses to be so or not.
    • 1836
  • We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream: it may be so the moment after death.
    • 1836
  • What would a man do, if he were compelled to live always in the sultry heat of society, and could never bathe himself in cool solitude?
    • 1836
  • Moonlight is sculpture; sunlight is painting.
    • 1838
  • I do detest all offices, -- all, at least, that are held on a political tenure. And I want nothing to do with politicians. Their hearts wither away, and die out of their bodies. Their consciences are turned to india-rubber, or to some substance as black as that, and which will stretch as much.
    • 1840
  • Words — so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.
    • 1848
  • Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase, and is never attained. Follow some other object, and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming of it.
    • 1851
  • Caresses, expressions of one sort or another, are necessary to the life of the affections as leaves are to the life of a tree. If they are wholly restrained, love will die at the roots.
    • 1853

The English Notebooks (1853 - 1858)

Passages from the English Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1870) by Sophia Hawthorne
If mankind were all intellect, they would be continually changing, so that one age would be entirely unlike another. The great conservative is the heart, which remains the same in all ages; so that commonplaces of a thousand years' standing are as effective as ever.
  • Nervous and excitable persons need to talk a great deal, by way of letting off their steam.
    • December 1853
  • If mankind were all intellect, they would be continually changing, so that one age would be entirely unlike another. The great conservative is the heart, which remains the same in all ages; so that commonplaces of a thousand years' standing are as effective as ever.
    • January 1854
  • A woman's chastity consists, like an onion, of a series of coats. You may strip off the outer ones without doing much mischief, perhaps none at all; but you keep taking off one after another, in expectation of coming to the inner nucleus, including the whole value of the matter. It proves, however, that there is no such nucleus, and that chastity is diffused through the whole series of coats, is lessened with the removal of each, and vanishes with the final one which you supposed would introduce you to the hidden pearl.
    • 16 March 1854

The Scarlet Letter (1850)

It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual health, to be brought into habits of companionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate.
My fortune somewhat resembled that of a person who should entertain an idea of committing suicide, and, altogether beyond his hopes, meet with the good hap to be murdered.
My heart was a habitation large enough for many guests, but lonely and chill, and without a household fire. I longed to kindle one! It seemed not so wild a dream.
Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win along with it the utmost passion of her heart.
  • It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual health, to be brought into habits of companionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate.
    • Introduction: The Custom-House
  • It is a good lesson — though it may often be a hard one — for a man who has dreamed of literary fame, and of making for himself a rank among the world’s dignitaries by such means, to step aside out of the narrow circle in which his claims are recognized, and to find how utterly devoid of all significance, beyond that circle, is all that he achieves, and all he aims at.
    • Introduction: The Custom-House
  • If a man, sitting all alone, cannot dream strange things, and make them look like truth, he need never try to write romances.
    • Introduction: The Custom-House
  • The moment when a man's head drops off is seldom or never, I am inclined to think, precisely the most agreeable of his life. Nevertheless, like the greater part of our misfortunes, even so serious a contingency brings its remedy and consolation with it, if the sufferer will but make the best, rather than the worst, of the accident which has befallen him.
    • Introduction: The Custom-House
  • In view of my previous weariness of office, and vague thoughts of resignation, my fortune somewhat resembled that of a person who should entertain an idea of committing suicide, and, altogether beyond his hopes, meet with the good hap to be murdered.
    • Introduction: The Custom-House
  • 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.
    • Chapter I: The Prison Door
  • 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.
    • Chapter II: The Market-Place
  • In our nature, however, there is a provision, alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it.
    • Chapter II: The Market-Place
  • My heart was a habitation large enough for many guests, but lonely and chill, and without a household fire. I longed to kindle one! It seemed not so wild a dream.
    • Chapter IV: The Interview
  • There is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghostlike, the spot where some great and marked event has given the color to their lifetime; and still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it.
    • Chapter V: Hester at Her Needle
  • Wherever there is a heart and an intellect, the diseases of the physical frame are tinged with the peculiarities of these.
    • Chapter IX: The Leech
  • Trusting no man as his friend, he could not recognize his enemy when the latter actually appeared.
    • Chapter X: The Leech and His Patient
  • A pure hand needs no glove to cover it.
    • Chapter XII: The Minister's Vigil
  • Let the black flower blossom as it may!
    • Chapter XIV: Hester and the Physician
  • Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win along with it the utmost passion of her heart.
    • Chapter XV: Hester and Pearl
Love, whether newly born, or aroused from a deathlike slumber, must always create sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world.
  • "Never, never!" whispered she. "What we did had a consecration of its own."
    • Chapter XVII: The Pastor and His Parishioner
  • The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers — stern and wild ones, — and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.
    • Chapter XVIII: A Flood of Sunshine
  • Love, whether newly born, or aroused from a deathlike slumber, must always create sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world.
    • Chapter XVIII: A Flood of Sunshine
  • No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.
    • Chapter XX: The Minister in a Maze
  • Among many morals which press upon us from the poor minister's miserable experience, we put only this into a sentence: — "Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!"
    • Chapter XIV: Conclusion
  • It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual life upon another; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his object.
    • Chapter XIV: Conclusion

The House of the Seven Gables (1851)

The wrongdoing of one generation lives into the successive ones...
The world owes all its onward impulses to men ill at ease. The happy man inevitably confines himself within ancient limits.
  • Many writers lay very great stress upon some definite moral purpose, at which they profess to aim their works. Not to be deficient in this particular, the author has provided himself with a moral, — the truth, namely, that the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief; and he would feel it a singular gratification if this romance might effectually convince mankind — or, indeed, any one man — of the folly of tumbling down an avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate, on the heads of an unfortunate posterity, thereby to maim and crush them, until the accumulated mass shall be scattered abroad in its original atoms. In good faith, however, he is not sufficiently imaginative to flatter himself with the slightest hope of this kind. When romances do really teach anything, or produce any effective operation, it is usually through a far more subtile process than the ostensible one. The author has considered it hardly worth his while, therefore, relentlessly to impale the story with its moral as with an iron rod, — or, rather, as by sticking a pin through a butterfly, — thus at once depriving it of life, and causing it to stiffen in an ungainly and unnatural attitude. A high truth, indeed, fairly, finely, and skilfully wrought out, brightening at every step, and crowning the final development of a work of fiction, may add an artistic glory, but is never any truer, and seldom any more evident, at the last page than at the first.
    • Preface
  • Halfway down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. The street is Pyncheon Street; the house is the old Pyncheon House; and an elm-tree, of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon Elm.
    • Ch. I : The Old Pyncheon Family
  • The aspect of the venerable mansion has always affected me like a human countenance, bearing the traces not merely of outward storm and sunshine, but expressive also, of the long lapse of mortal life, and accompanying vicissitudes that have passed within. Were these to be worthily recounted, they would form a narrative of no small interest and instruction, and possessing, moreover, a certain remarkable unity, which might almost seem the result of artistic arrangement.
    • Ch. I : The Old Pyncheon Family
  • God will give him blood to drink!
    • Ch. I : The Old Pyncheon Family
  • Life is made up of marble and mud.
    • Ch. II : The Little Shop-Window
  • What other dungeon is so dark as one's own heart! What jailer so inexorable as one's self!
    • Ch. XI : The Arched Window
  • The world owes all its onward impulses to men ill at ease. The happy man inevitably confines himself within ancient limits.
    • Ch. XX : The Flower of Eden
  • Of all the events which constitute a person's biography, there is scarcely one — none, certainly, of anything like a similar importance — to which the world so easily reconciles itself as to his death.
    • Ch. XXI : The Departure

Unsourced

  • Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

Disputed

  • Easy reading is damn hard writing.
    • Also attributed to Ernest Hemingway and others; the earliest definite occurrence of this yet found in research for Wikiquote is by Maya Angelou, who stated it in Conversations With Maya Angelou (1989) edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot:
I think it's Alexander Pope who says, "Easy writing is damn hard reading," and vice versa, easy reading is damn hard writing
The statement she referred to is most probably:
You write with ease, to show your breeding,
But easy writing's curst hard reading

Misattributed

  • Accuracy is the twin brother of honesty; inaccuracy, of dishonesty.
    • "Accuracy is twin brother to honesty, and inaccuracy to dishonesty." — Charles Simmons, Laconic Manual and Brief Remarker, containing over a thousand subjects alphabetically and systematically arranged (1852), p. 20: "Accuracy"
  • All brave men love; for he only is brave who has affections to fight for, whether in the daily battle of life, or in physical contests.
    • William Cowper Prime in The Old House by the River (1853); first misattributed to Hawthorne in Notable Thoughts about Women: A Literary Mosaic (1882) by Maturin Murray Ballou, p. 239
  • Religion and art spring from the same root and are close kin. Economics and art are strangers.
    • Willa Cather, "Four Letters: Escapism" first published in Commonweal (17 April 1936)
  • You can get assent to almost any proposition so long as you are not going to do anything about it.
    • John Jay Chapman, Practical Agitation (1900), ch.7

Quotes about Hawthorne

  • I am always so dazzled and bewildered with the richness, the depth, the ... jewels of beauty in his productions that I am always looking forward to a second reading where I can ponder and muse and fully take in the miraculous wealth of thoughts.
  • Hawthorne's career was probably as tranquil and uneventful a one as ever fell to the lot of a man of letters; it was almost strikingly deficient in incident, in what may be called the dramatic quality. Few men of equal genius and of equal eminence can have led on the whole a simpler life... He produced, in quantity, but little. His works consist of four novels and the fragment of another, five volumes of short tales, a collection of sketches, and a couple of story-books for children. And yet some account of the man and the writer is well worth giving. Whatever may have been Hawthorne's private lot, he has the importance of being the most beautiful and most eminent representative of a literature. The importance of the literature may be questioned, but at any rate, in the field of letters, Hawthorne is the most valuable example of the American genius.
  • There in seclusion and remote from men
    The wizard hand lies cold,
    Which at its topmost speed let fall the pen,
    And left the tale half told.
  • It is curious, how a man may travel along a country road, and yet miss the grandest, or sweetest of prospects, by reason of an intervening hedge, so like all other hedges, as in no way to hint of the wide landscape beyond. So has it been with me concerning the enchanting landscape in the soul of this Hawthorne, this most excellent Man of Mosses.
  • Where Hawthorne is known, he seems to be deemed a pleasant writer, with a pleasant style, — a sequestered, harmless man, from whom any deep and weighty thing would hardly be anticipated: — a man who means no meanings. But there is no man, in whom humor and love, like mountain peaks, soar to such a rapt height, as to receive the irradiations of the upper skies; — there is no man in whom humor and love are developed in that high form called genius; no such man can exist without also possessing, as the indispensable complement of these, a great, deep intellect, which drops down into the universe like a plummet. Or, love and humor are only the eyes, through which such an intellect views this world. The great beauty in such a mind is but the product of its strength.
  • I found that but to glean after this man, is better than to be in at the harvest of others.
  • The truth seems to be, that like many other geniuses, this Man of Mosses takes great delight in hoodwinking the world, — at least, with respect to himself. Personally, I doubt not, that he rather prefers to be generally esteemed but a so-so sort of author; being willing to reserve the thorough and acute appreciation of what he is, to that party most qualified to judge — that is, to himself. Besides, at the bottom of their natures, men like Hawthorne, in many things, deem the plaudits of the public such strong presumptive evidence of mediocrity in the object of them, that it would in some degree render them doubtful of their own powers, did they hear much and vociferous braying concerning them in the public.
  • It is hard to be finite upon an infinite subject, and all subjects are infinite. By some people, this entire scrawl of mine may be esteemed altogether unnecessary, inasmuch, "as years ago" (they may say) "we found out the rich and rare stuff in this Hawthorne, whom you now parade forth, as if only yourself were the discoverer of this Portuguese diamond in our Literature." — But even granting all this; and adding to it, the assumption that the books of Hawthorne have sold by the five-thousand, — what does that signify? — They should be sold by the hundred-thousand, and read by the million; and admired by every one who is capable of Admiration.

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850, is an American romance novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne; it is generally considered to be his masterpiece. Throughout, Hawthorne explores the issues of grace, legalism, and guilt.— Excerpted from The Scarlet Letter on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Speaker Icon.svg one or more chapters are available in a spoken word format.

Contents

PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

Simple English

File:Title page for The Scarlet
Title page of The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter is a book by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was first published on March 16, 1850. The setting of the story is in the stern 17th century New England. It is a story of adultery, or, indeed, its punishment and results. It is about a woman called Hester who commits adultery with a preacher. It is a very popular book and many movies have been made about it.









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