The Scarlet Letter

March 1, 2014

I just finished “The Scarlet Letter”  by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I read this book 50 years ago in high school but I don’t remember anything about it except the location was Salem Massachusetts and a woman wore a scarlet “A” because she was an adulteress (pretty exotic when you are are 17 year old farm boy in Backporch Illinois).

Although my favorite book genres are science fiction and history I surprisingly really enjoyed reading “The Scarlet Letter”.

I read the book because its one of the Scientific American’s 10 novels that will sharpen your mind.  I’ve read 8 with 2 remaining.  The list below shows my progress.

  • The Sorrows of Young Werther (1787) by Johann von Goethe 
  • Pride And Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen
  • The Scarlet Letter (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Madame Bovary (1856) by Gustave Flaubert 
  • Middlemarch (1870) by George Eliot 
  • Anna Karenina (1877) by Leo Tolstoy 
  • Mrs Dalloway (1925) Virginia Woolf 
  • Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison
  • Disgrace (1999) by J.M. Coetzee
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) by Mohsin Hamid

I thought the book would be boring because of the subject matter but it held my interest on every page.  Of course being much shorter than Anna Karenina helps hold the reader’s interest.  So far “The Scarlet Letter” is one of my three favorites. The other two being “Anna Karenina” and “The Reluctant Fundamentalist“. As an aside, my least favorite was “Middlemarch“.

Don’t expect a cliffhanger.  The reader can guess almost from the beginning that the reverend Arthur Dimmesdale was Hester Prynne’s (the adulteress) partner in love (er, crime in those days).  However, the author’s exploration of the effects of sin, guilt, and intolerance are fascinating.

Other points of interest:

  • Author’s vocabulary was much more extensive than mine.  I can’t remember when I had to look up so many words!
  • Can a guilty conscience really ruin your health and cause death?
  • Witches and the “dark man” (the devil) were part of everyday life in those days.