Book Review: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Image Description: The Peguin Classics book-cover of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It features an angry looking brunette-haired woman wearing a black vintage-style pilgrim dress with a white collar and white cuffs, she is cradling to her chest a brunette-curly-haired infant in white swaddling clothes and/or a white sheet.
Title: The Scarlet Letter
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Publisher: Paperback: Penguin Classics and Audible: Cherry Hill Publishing
Format and Price: Paperback at $12.99 and Audible Book at $7.95
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

About The Author:
Nathaniel Hawthorne was a 19th century American novelist and short story writer. He is seen as a key figure in the development of American literature for his tales of the nation’s colonial history. Much of Hawthorne’s writing centers around New England and many feature moral allegories with a Puritan inspiration. His work is considered part of the Romantic movement and includes novels, short stories, and a biography of his friend, the United States President Franklin Pierce.

About The Book:
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s most famous novel was published in 1850 and takes place in Puritan New England, focusing on a community where a beautiful young woman, Hester Prynne, and her illegitimate child are subject to persecution and ostracism; while the mother refuses to name her co-conspirator in adultery, and the father of her child burns up with secret guilt and shame. Hawthorne’s family history caused much of his interest in this time period, but his spiritual leanings toward the popular Transcendental movement precipitated this classic novel where oppression, injustice and intolerance – and their consequences – are explored in turn.

General Observations:
~It’s All Been Done Before: The difficulty in reviewing a book under the category of Classic is that it feels like everyone’s already said what needed to be said.

~The Use of Language: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s style of eloquent and descriptive language isn’t my style of writing, but the flowery language does suite the book’s style, my favourite descriptions are of the forest, the river and the brook, which take place over the couple of chapters that Pearl, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale spend talking in the forest.

~The Lady Doth Protest Too Much: I know Pearl is supposed to come across as this creepy demon-child that only a mother could love, but I honestly didn’t think she was that weird, Pearl came across as a fairly normal child considering her upbringing (and time-period) of only spending time in the company of her mother and pretty much being scorned or ignored by everyone else. A lot of the comments of “she is such a strange child” came across as projection on Hester Prynne’s part.

~Female Protagonist Problems – Passive Character: By the research I’ve done on the book, I’m informed that Hester Prynne is considered not only a martyr but a literary heroine, but I suppose I have a very different idea of what the character arch of a feminine literary hero should be, although it could most certainly be argued that Hester Prynne is a Hero by the Greek Tragedy definition. I understand the concepts of Hester Prynne’s character that Nathaniel Hawthorne is trying to convey, that good lies in the everyday small deeds of kindness and that soft is not weak.

These are good ideas and concepts to put forward, these are things I agree with, but the problem is that Hester Prynne is never an active character, she is a passive character reacting to events occurring around her, and the moment she tries to actively steer the course of her fate, it’s all ends in tragedy. And yes, some of the reason for that is the position women like her have in society and the time period the novel is set in, but unfortunately this does make the novel pacing drag in places and it is the reason why the resolution of Hester’s character arch is so confusing, or at the least, confusing to me.

~A Product of It’s Time: I understand that, at the time this novel was written, the idea of presenting people who committed adultery as people with thoughts, feelings and that they deserved the chance to redeem themselves and to be happy, you know, humanizing them instead of demonizing them, was a radical idea. But nowadays, adultery isn’t that significant anymore, certainly not to the same extent in my experience and environment (naturally this is going to be different for different people). It serves as a time-capsule of what a select group of people in the USA used to be and how the practise of community scapegoating really doesn’t help society develop better into a more progressive community.

All in all, it’s a good book, and while it is definitely worth a read, however, I feel as though I will find Damned Whores and God’s Police by Anne Summers more relevant to my situation.

Available for Purchase: Amazon | Audible | Book Despository | Kobo Books
Image Description: a button image displaying text that reads RMFAO 2017 Genre Challenge

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