Friday, December 31, 2010
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I'm rushing to get this in and another review for my final round up on book reading for 2010.
My first misconception was that the Scarlet Letter was a written letter, it was in fact an embroidered A on Hester Prynne's clothing. A for adultery. First published in 1850. the setting is the early days of the Massachusetts Puritan Colony.
It's a story of adultery, guilt, open and hidden sin, and how this psychologically effects one.
Arthur Dimmesdale is the minister and secret father of Hester's child Pearl, he struggles with conscience and his own weakness. Roger Chillingsworth, Hester's husband from Europe, revenges himself on the frail psyche of Dimmesdale.
Who was made the stronger of the two? Hester or Dimmesdale? Throughout the story it is as if Hester grows and has drawn strength from the public knowledge of her adultery, where as Dimmesdale is shrinking day by day, because of his tormented conscience. Chillingsworth's revenge eats himself up, as he physically becomes older and wizened. Pearl who is released from all bounds of society by being rejected by society, has a clear childlike sight into situations that even adults cannot see; as society has boxed their thinking, blinkered their eyes.
This is a must read for everyone. It's more than a tale of Puritanical New England, but delves deeper into society how it moves and thinks, and what it means to live outside the accepted bounds of society.
Exerts from the book which have such depth:
...yes these were her realities all else had vanished.
...as if her heart had been flung into the street to trample on.
...sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures.
...occur but once in a lifetime ... she might call up the vital strength that would have sufficed for many a quiet years. She could no longer borrow from the future to help her through the present. Tomorrow would bring it's own trial with it; so would the next day, and so would the next ...
...than to hide a guilty heart through life ... to add hypocrisy to sin. and would that I might endure his agony as well as mine.
Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied ..., that she was banished and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere,...
Hester Prynne was able to make a living with her beautiful needlework.
...gorgeously embroidered gloves, were all deemed necessary to the official state of men ... even while sumptuary laws forbade these ... to the plebeian order (from the Latin, lower class, peasant)
The child's attire, was distinguished ... by a fantastic ingenuity, airy charm.
It is probable that there was an idea of penance in this mode of occupation. She had in her nature, a rich, voluptuous Oriental characteristic, ... a taste for the gorgeously beautiful, ... Woman derive a pleasure, incomprehensible to the other sex, from the delicate toil of the needle.
"Pearl" as being of great price, ... purchased with all she had, ... her mother's only treasure.
The child could not be made amenable to rules ... Above all the warfare of Hester's spirit, at that epoch, was perpetuated in Pearl.
... the mother felt like one who has evoked a spirit, but, by some irregularity in the process of conjuration, has failed to win the master word, that should control the new and incomprehensible intelligence.
Such passages, such writing and formation of words.