02 April 2008

Book Review: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

2008 TBR Challenge #6

The Scarlet Letter In the eyes of the Puritan settlement of Boston, Hester Prynne stands doubly condemned - first for bearing a child out of wedlock, then for refusing to name her partner in sin. She is sentenced to wear a scarlet letter A upon her dress, marking her as an adulteress for as long as she remains in the town. Hester retires with her daughter Pearl to a forest cottage, and in time her needlework and her charity gain her a measure of acceptance.

With all but one person. The physician known as Roger Chillingworth has seen what no-one else has: the identity of Pearl’s father. And he has reasons of his own for wanting to stamp out any chance at contentment that Hester or her lover might try to take.

For the time in which it was written. this is a remarkable book; focussing on a ‘fallen’ woman without condemning her, but rather the Puritan regime which judged her so harshly. Hester is a very sympathetic character, and I loved seeing the attitudes of the townspeople toward her change as they saw the quality of her conduct under the burden of the scarlet letter. Chillingworth’s motives were soon obvious, but he still made an effective ... well, I guess you could say villain. Certainly his presence was a malevolent one, although he scarcely did anything; it was psychological villainy, in keeping with the nature of the rest of the book’s drama. If it was longer, it would have run the risk of being boring; and as it was, my mind didn’t lack opportunity to wander off and start comparing Pearl to the typical possessed child of the horror genre. (Not that she was possessed, merely unpredictable and to Hester’s imagination a little sinister.) I should confess here that I made it shorter than it is, by skipping the entire Introduction on Chris’s advice.

The slow pace I could live with, but some of the dialogue was more of a problem. There were moments when Pearl, though little more than a toddler, spoke just like an adult. Admittedly I’m no expert either on the seventeenth century or small children, but to me it sounded wrong. Still, it’s a book I definitely recommend.

Rating: B


Tia Nevitt said...

What an interesting cover!

When I read this, I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I finished it in record time and hardly put it down.

J Scott Savage said...

Love your phrase, "psychological villainy." Very on target. I like to read Hawthorne on gray rainy afternoons. It just feels right somehow. Great review.

Lisa said...

I first read this book in high school (many years ago!) and loved it. I've reread it, and it still holds the same appeal for me. Glad you enjoyed it.

Heather said...

I've never read this novel (also didn't see the movie with Demi) and I've never felt that I should read it. After this review I think I might change my mind. I consider myself forewarned about the verbious (sp?) toddler.

Amat Libris said...

Tia: I thought it would be hard work, too and was pleasantly surprised when it wasn't.

J Scott: Thanks!

Lisa: I missd out on this in high school - we did mostly English books.

Heather: Verbose?

Anonymous said...

I am reading the Scarlet Letter in my English 3 Honors class right now. i must say that i do not care for the book. I think that because it is written in a way that i can't really understand very well. I am on Chapter 21 and i still don't like it very much. My english techer is also making us write a journal for every chapter in the book by chosing a quote from the book that we like or that we think is relevant to the rest of the novel. But read the book you may be able to understand it better than i can and you may enjoy the book.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776