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The Scarlet Letter (Bantam Classics) Mass Market Paperback – February 1, 1981
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"[Nathaniel Hawthorne] recaptured, for his New England, the essence of Greek tragedy." --Malcolm Cowley
From the Publisher
Hailed by Henry James as "the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the country," Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter reaches to our nation's historical and moral roots for the material of great tragedy. Set in an early New England colony, the novel shows the terrible impact a single, passionate act has on the lives of three members of the community: the defiant Hester Prynne; the fiery, tortured Reverend Dimmesdale; and the obsessed, vengeful Chillingworth.
With The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne became the first American novelist to forge from our Puritan heritage a universal classic, a masterful exploration of humanity's unending struggle with sin, guilt and pride.
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Besides Nathaniel Hawthorne's envious symbolism ability, this is a work filled with all imaginable scandal cleverly written in old English. When we debated what tagline to use, the above barely beat "Heartbreaking and so lovely you will never forget it!"
If you haven't read it, please do. The language is rough to comprehend in the beginning, but soon it wraps around you and you feel rewarded to the bone for having completed this masterpiece.
The prologue, leading to the tale of the discovery of the story (the Scarlet Letter is presented as a story-within-a-story) is long and leaves the reader impatient. Since it pertains to a different location and time from the main story, it is not quite clear how it enhances the tale.
The depictions of human feelings are exquisitely detailed, which is fairly remarkable because they are almost invariably gloomy feelings of guilt and shame. The pace, very slow at first, picks up towards the dramatic denouement, followed by a rather unsatisfactory conclusion. One wishes that the author would have thumbed his nose at the Puritans and allowed Hester Prynne a happy life ever after, but Hawthorne does not violate the moral conventions of the age and the conclusion would therefore have satisfied the most moralistic readers. No happy ending here, except for the one innocent character, so everyone who sinned paid the price, amen.
Seen in the light of the moral tradition in which the novel is set, and the barely less strict society in which it was written, the quality of the writing serves the purpose of moral edification beautifully. The long sentence, with their complex embedded clauses and dated vocabulary, is sometimes hard to follow, but always limpid once parsed. In that sense it is reminiscent of another moral tale of the age, Melville's Moby Dick, minus the see and with a different capital sin involved.
Overall, this is one of the canons of literature that should be part of the weel-educated reader's collection.
The Dover Thrift Study Edition makes everything so easy to understand while still giving the reader a chance to find their own way through the text.
The book itself is in the front, but the back holds character descriptions as they come in, chapter (or chapters) summaries and then an analysis of what has happened and what it means in the bigger picture.
Whenever I must read a classic my go to is to see if they have it in a Dover Thrift Study Edition. It makes my life so much easier and I also get so much more out of the book than if I had just read it alone.