"The Scarlet Letter" is a 19th-century romance novel written by the great American author Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Set in the restrictive New England Puritan society of Salem and Boston, Massachusetts, the novel starts out with a lengthy chapter describing how the book came about. A narrator describes how he found a certain piece of cloth, finely embroidered in gold with the letter "A." The listener will discover that the letter was a mark of disgrace and punishment for one woman who had been accused of adultery at a previous time.
The story of Hester Prynne and the scarlet letter she was forced to wear doesn't begin until after this initial chapter, which Hawthorne labels as the "Preamble."
Early in the novel, Hester Prynne and her infant daughter, Pearl, appear as they are led from the town prison and subjected to ridicule and punishment by the townspeople.
Hester has borne Pearl out of wedlock, and the town wants to know the father of the child, since Hester's husband was thought to have been previously lost at sea. The remainder of the story is an examination of Hester, her story, the two men in her life and an examination into the nature of sin itself.
Insightful readers and listeners will discover that the novel is a deep examination of Boston society and Puritan hypocrisy of that time as well as the people within Hester's community.
Who comes out on top, and whether there is any hope of retribution and eventual salvation is a question the listener must reserve for the novel.
Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804. It is interesting to note that one of his ancestors, John Hathorne, had served as one of the judges at the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 1692. To remind himself of his family's part in that part of American history, Hawthorne added the "w" to his name, which served as a reminder of his familial connection to witchcraft.
Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College in Maine, where he met Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He became interested in Transcendentalism as an outgrowth of his friendships with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller.
Among Hawthorne's works are: "The Blithedale Romance," "The Marble Faun," "The House of the Seven Gables" and numerous short stories.
He is regarded as one of the greats in early American literature. Herman Melville, of "Moby Dick" fame, dubbed him the "American Shakespeare". Hawthorne died in May, 1864 at his home in Concord, Massachusetts.
It is 1642 in the Puritan town of Boston. Hester Prynne has been found guilty of adultery and has borne an illegitimate child. In lieu of being put to death, she is condemned to wear the scarlet letter A on her dress as a reminder of her shameful act.
Hester’s husband had been lost at sea years earlier and was presumed dead, but he reappears in time to witness Hester’s humiliation on the town scaffold. Upon discovering her deed, the vengeful husband becomes obsessed with finding the identity of the man who dishonored his wife. To do so he assumes a false name, pretends to be a physician, and forces Hester to keep his new identity secret. Meanwhile, Hester’s lover, the beloved Reverend Dimmesdale, publicly pressures her to name the child’s father while secretly praying that she will not. Hester defiantly protects his identity and reputation, even when faced with losing her daughter, Pearl.
Hailed by Henry James as “the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the country,” Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a masterful portrayal of humanity’s continuing struggle with sin, guilt, and pride. Download and start listening now!