The Scarlet Letter (Hardbound)
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A universal classic and a masterful exploration of humanity’s unending struggle with sin, guilt and pride, The Scarlet Letter is a foundational work of American literature.
Set in an early New England colony, the novel shows the terrible impact a single, passionate act has on the lives of three members of the community; the defiant Hester Prynne; the fiery, tortured Reverend Dimmesdale; and the obsessed, vengeful Chillingworth.
The unforgettable Hester Prynne with her illegitimate baby, Pearl, clutched in her arms and forced to wear the letter “A” – the mark of an adulteress, embroidered in scarlet thread on her bosom as punishment for her sin, discovers strength in the face of ostracism and emerges as a heroine ahead of her time. Her powerful, bittersweet story is an American classic that continues to touch the hearts of modern readers.
It is beautiful, admirable, extraordinary; it has in the highest degree that merit which I have spoken of as the mark of Hawthorne’s best things – an indefinable purity and lightness of conception.... One can often return to it; it supports familiarity and has the inexhaustible charm and mystery of great works of art. — Henry James
Nathaniel Hawthorne, born on July 4, 1804 at Salem, Massachusetts, was the only son of Captain Nathaniel Hathorne and Elizabeth Clarke Manning Hathorne (Nathaniel added the “w” to the spelling of the family name so as to make the spelling of the name conform to the way it was pronounced). Captain Hathorne died in 1808, leaving his four-year-old son with his mother and two sisters, Elizabeth and Maria Louisa. After her husband’s death, Hawthorne’s mother began to withdraw into seclusion. During solitary childhood with his mother, Hawthorne read widely.
In 1821, Hawthorne entered Bowdoin College. Among his classmates were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who became a well known poet, and Franklin Pierce, who became the fourteenth President of the United States.
Hawthorne was not an outstanding student at Bowdoin. He graduated in the middle of his class in 1825 and returned to his mother’s house in Salem where he spent much of the next twelve years (1825-37). At Salem he began to write stories and sketches and published a novel based on his college life Fanshawe (1928), at his own expense. The book received only slight critical attention and an ashamed author burnt the unsold copies. But this led to long, productive friendship between Hawthorne and the publisher Samuel Goodrich. Hawthorne took to writing short fiction and in historical and allegorical tales he began to explore the impact of harsh Puritanism on the guilty conscience of New England. Many of these stories were published in Goodrich’s The Token, an annual gift book and were later collected in Twice-Told Tales (1837, expanded 1842).
Hawthorne then worked for Goodrich as an editor and hack writer from 1836 to 1839. After this he accepted a post as Surveyor of the Boston Custom House. His involvement with the Boston literary circle led him to quit his post in 1841 and to invest a thousand dollars of his meagre capital in the experiment at Brook Farm Community at West Roxbury. He had expected that this investment would provide a means of livelihood for himself and his bride-to-be, but the work schedule at Brook Farm left him exhausted and gave him little time to write. He resigned from the Community in November 1841. In 1842 he married Sophia Peabody, herself an active participant in the Transcendentalist movement. That same year he and his wife moved to Concord, where they lived in the Old Manse, a former home of Ralph Waldo Emerson. There Hawthorne had many of the leading Transcendentalists of the day as neighbours and associates. Notable among them were Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller and Alcott. Life at the Old Manse was both happy and productive. Hawthorne was able to contribute to the Democratic Review and to produce some of the tales which appeared in Mosses from an Old Manse, published in 1846. From 1846 to 1849 he worked as Surveyor of the port of Salem. He lost his post because of change of administration. This provided him time to produce his first significant long work of fiction, The Scarlet Letter (1850). This is still considered the most important of his works. It won him immediate appreciation. Then rapidly followed The House of the Seven Gables (1851) and The Blithedale Romance (1852) which was based on his Brook Farm experience.
In 1853 Franklin Pierce became President and Hawthorne, who had written a campaign biography for him, was appointed U.S. Consul at Liverpool. In 1860 he published his final novel, The Marble Faun and died in 1864.
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