Stephen Durrant's Reviews > The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Aug 09, 2012

it was amazing
Read in August, 2012

Some novels, usually the very best, make me want to read the relevant literary scholarship. This is one. I first read "The Scarlet Letter" as a university freshman almost exactly fifty years ago. I remembered it only as a frightening portrayal of early Puritan fanaticism. It is certainly that--but also much more. What intrigues me now is the mixture of voices--perhaps even "ideologies"--in this work. The first voice is thoroughly embedded in the Puritan past and takes on a very strong Gothic tone. The second, which one might identify with a more enlightened nineteenth century, objects to the earlier harshness and seems to view the Gothic side of the story through a more psychological lens. Still, this voice remains very much caught in the conservative Christian rhetoric of sin, guilt, redemption, etc. The third voice is an almost revolutionary one that points towards a future when such ways of thinking will yield to a new vision, one in which women, in particular, will escape from forces that have entrapped them. It would be easy to separate these three voices, respectively, into those of the characters, the narrator, and the author, but somehow I feel it is a bit more complicated than that. Unfortunately, I know too little about Hawthorne himself or about nineteenth-century American culture and literature to be able to sort this all out. That is where the critics might help. Putting all that aside, I will simply say that this novel overwhelmed me. Sometimes a "classic" really is a classic.

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Suzanne I just reread this after forty years. It is masterful and fresh though almost 200 years old. The last section, when Hester and Dimmesdale plan their escape is seductive. I aost joined them in believing that they could leave. Great review.


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