On this date in 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter was published. Of this book, Arnold Bennett wrote that it was "The one American literary work which comes as near to perfection as is granted a man to bring his achievements." Hawthorne's memorable tale of sin and redemption, judgment and forgiveness is an American literature staple.
Students often chafe at the difficulty of the language (Hawthorne's style is wordy and complex) and the dialogue (which reflects the speech patterns of 17th Century Boston). It is debated that this great work, always a part of the American literature canon, be replaced by a new, more modern work.
While I understand both sides of this debate, I wonder what book could supply all that THE SCARLET LETTER does in terms of American History, Puritan dogma, Emersonian self-reliance, Christian redemption and the reality of hypocrisy. The book, with its triangle of compelling characters including the oppressed Hester Prynne, her estranged husband Roger Chillingworth, and her lover Arthur Dimmesdale, examines a fascinating story that emerges from its Puritan setting, yet is timeless in its thematic intent.
I am always moved by this novel when I read it, and its simple moral, basically "tell the truth," is made powerful because of Hawthorne's exploration of the alternative to truth: the pain that comes with living a lie.
Hurrah for Hawthorne, I say. Long may his words live on.