Saturday, February 14, 2015
A HEART TO RECEIVE YOURS: Nathaniel Hawthorne & The Scarlet Letter
What better topic for literary scholars on Saint Valentine's Day than an American romance novel written by a true Romanticist? (Alright...Dark Romanticist. Semantics!) The English in which he writes may feel antiquated and require closer reading by contemporary readers, but the layers of meaning, the universal themes and use of allegory, the rich imagery that burns into our imaginations just as the scarlet letter itself burned the chest of the author when he found it in The Custom House, is what gives Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel its permanent place on the greatest American literature shelf.
Here is a mind blowing fact about this novel. Since the 1920's, seven Scarlet Letter films have been made, and one is currently in the works, and one film has been made inspired by the story and its themes (Easy A) and became quite a hit at the box office. High school classrooms all over The United States and Europe have it on their classroom studies list, and it has even seeped into our idiomology ("Gosh, one mistake and it's like I'm wearing a scarlet A or something!") Whatever you may think of this novel, it has that lasting quality. It is here to stay.
This begs the question, of course: What makes a work of literature timeless? Language is constantly evolving, so it is a given that as time marches on, the language on the pages will go out of vogue. Meaning may be harder to access. It will take patience, dedication, passion for great story, and a sophisticated vocabulary to muddle through and find that diamond. But the pursuit is worth the time in the end. The Scarlett Letter is a haunting story that stays with you. Hawthorne purposefully leaves some questions unanswered. This adds to the mystery of Hester Prynne as well as makes us, the reader respect her a little bit more for stubbornly refusing to reveal to her nosy, judgmental neighbors the identity of her lover and the details of their sinful tryst. In many ways, we see fractals of Hawthorne, himself in Prynne: beauty, austere determination and fierce protection of privacy. There is also the fact that Prynne is described as a beautiful, dark-haired woman. Many of Hawthorne's contemporaries have hinted that Hawthorne, himself had a weakness for stunning brunette ladies. Here, I am stepping outside the arena of supportable fact and into the dangerous realm of assumption, but it IS Valentine's Day!
Please read the essay via the link below about Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter. It is an excellent resource, and provides some insights as to what it is about this novel that still draws us in and intrigues us. Below, tell us what you found most compelling in the article, and any new things you learned, or inspirations that struck you as you read.
Happy Saint Valentine's Day, and here is to the steadfast Romanticists everywhere.
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE/SCARLET LETTER ARTICLE