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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Classic Thursdays: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter is considered Nathaniel Hawthorne's most impressive work ever. The novel is an 1850 work of fiction in a historical setting. Set in the 17th-century England during the years 1642-1649, it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an adulterous affair and struggles to create a new life of repentance and guilt. Throughout the book, Nathaniel Hawthorne explores themes of legalism, sin and guilt.

It was long thought that Hawthorne originally planned The Scarlet Letter to be a shorter novelette which was part of a collection to be named Old Time Legends, but his publisher convinced him to expand the work to a full-length novel. But this was not the truth. The publisher had in fact persuaded Hawthorne to publish The Scarlet Letter separately, but had nothing to do with the length of the story.

The Scarlet Letter was published as a novel in the spring of 1850. Hawthorne doubted the book would be popular, but in fact, it became an instant best-seller. Its initial publication brought wide protests from the natives of Salem, who did not approve of how Hawthorne depicted them in his introduction 'The Custom House'. In the second edition of the book, Hawthorne stated that he had decided to re-print his introduction 'without the change of a word...' As to enmity or ill-feeling of any kind, personal or political, he utterly disclaims such motives.

The Scarlet Letter was also one of the first mass-produced books in America. Into the mid-nineteenth century, book-binders of homegrown literature hand-made their books and sold them in small quantities. The first mechanized printing of The Scarlet Letter, 2500 volumes, sold out within ten days and was widely read and discussed to an extent not much experienced in the young country up until now. Copies of the first edition are often sought by collectors as rare books and may fetch up to around $18,000USD.

The novel has been made into a movie in the year 1995 directed by Roland Joffe and starring Demi Moore, Gary Oldman and Robert Duvall. This version was 'freely adapted' and deviated from the original story.

- Debolina Raja Gupta