Commentary by Nathaniel Hawthorne, W. D. Howells, and Carl Van Doren
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.”
Hawthorne was a novelist and short-story writer, born in Salem, MA. Educated at Bowdon College, he shut himself away for 12 years to learn to write fiction. His first major success was the novel The Scarlet Letter (1850), still the best known of his works. Other books include The House of the Seven Gables (1851), The Snow Image (1852), and a campaign biography of his old schoolfriend, President Franklin Pierce, on whose inauguration Hawthorne became consul at Liverpool (1853--7). Only belatedly recognized in his own country, he continued to write articles and stories, notably those for the Atlantic Monthly, collected as Our Old Home
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