So I progress with my Classics Club challenge. Book number 2: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Now, what do you think when you read “letter”? I was thinking of the written word. Confessions of the soul. A condemning note. Or a novel through letters. Highlighting a very specific one. And as mentioned previously, I like novels through letters.
But no. This was not a novel through letters. There was only one letter in question here. The letter A. In red. In 17th century Puritan Boston. A tad terrifying somehow.
In fact, the red "A" has a starring role. It never leaves the main focus of the story. Nothing happens without its influence. Souls live and die because of it.
Hester Prynne has an affair and gives birth to a little girl, Pearl. As a result, she is condemned to wear the scarlet letter A. Forever. And consequently to be the scorn of all around her. To be abused, disregarded. Excluded.
Her lover is protected by her. He destroys himself through the guilt. Her husband arrives to wreak vengeance. He destroys himself through his hatred.
Not a jolly tale, I agree. But captivating all the same. The narrator tells the tale without ever taking a side. Which is good, because frankly there’s quite enough judgment in the book. Society has judged Hester Prynne. She judges herself. Her lover judges himself. Her husband judges the lovers. Even little Pearl has a view on matters.
Yet it is a tale that remains captivating. To watch society’s ways from a distance. To see how moral decisions can be taken on the conduct of others. To see the moral superiority of ones over others. To see who is deemed worthy – or not – of acceptance. To see how repentance and forgiveness can be completely sidelined. Did anyone else wonder how in the space of seven years in this severe Boston society, only Hester Prynne sinned?
The olde worlde style of English used kind of adds something to the whole. Giving the sense of age. Adding to the sense of a dated understanding of judgment and condemnation.
And I learned a new word. Gules. The blazoning term for red. Never heard of that one before. And I had to wait to the end of the book to find it. Not sure I’ll have too many opportunities to use it, mind. But look out for it in my future posts. I may just slip it in there… :0)