Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

My thoughts:
I truly thought I would love this book.  I didn't. *she says as she runs from classicists aiming to kick her ass*  I really wanted to like it too.  I had seen a couple of film versions and I love the story, but I just could not get into Hawthorne's writing in this book.  I found myself skimming large sections of rambling text.  One thing I will say is that Hawthorne did succeed in making Roger Chillingworth (aka Hester's long lost husband) a thoroughly disgusting character.  I remember watching the most recent version of the film with Demi Moore (ugh) as Hester and Robert Duvall as Prynne/Chillingworth.  Duvall portrayed the character very well.  Every time he was on the screen, my skin crawled.  Now I can see that his portrayal was quite close to the spirit of Hawthorne's character.  As my skin crawled watching him in the movie, so it did as I read of him in the book.  Of course, I can't fault the book on its themes.  It is a commentary on the rights of women during Puritan times and the strength of a woman to endure the constraints put upon her by those times.  As seems the case over and over is that the woman is set to endure the great trials and succeeds, but the man is weak and cannot endure.  Perhaps a treatise on the true strength of women is one of the underlying messages here.    So although I say I did not like this book, I can still recognize its importance in our canon of classic literature.  I have yet to read The House of the Seven Gables, The Marble Fawn, and others of his works, but I will not allow my feelings about The Scarlet Letter dissuade me from reading them, as I've especially heard that The Marble Faun is excellent.  We shall see...

About the book:
Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne's concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided.

Reading Challenges



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  1. This is not one of the classics I want to read. It just doesn't appeal to me at all.

  2. Hawthorne's writing even kind of annoys me in this book, but I love the storyline enough to look past that.

    (Don't forget to check out WHEN SHE WOKE. I know you'll enjoy it.)

  3. I'm not a fan of the Scarlet Letter either...

    So you're not alone! :)

    Great review Michelle!

    Lisa :)

  4. I read this book in middle school, I think, so that was a while ago! I remember expecting it to be terribly romantic, but it wasn't at all. It was more about the symbolism than the characters, for sure. And that guy who hooked up with Hester was so freaking spineless.

  5. Don't feel bad. I tried to read it about two years ago, got about 30 pages in, and quit. It just made me too angry to see how men used to treat women in our society, and how chickensh*t some of the men were. There are way better books out there!

  6. I loathe this book! Everyone of my kids has been forced to read it for school and it's the one place I have allowed them to "cheat." There has to be a much better way to learn the things there are to learn here!

  7. I have been told that I would not like this book. I guess I will keep avoiding it.

  8. It's so difficult when you want to read a "classic" and the language and writing just turns you off, or you just kind of "don't get it." I kind of want to read House of 7 Gables, but I will keep in mind what you said about Hawthorne.

  9. I actually liked the story and the insight that it gave for the time period. There were parts that were well written. However, Hawthorne admitted to "channeling" a ghost spirit for the book, which might be where some of the rambling came from. There were several spots where editing could have given the story a better flow.

  10. I remember reading this one in either or high school or college and I didn't care for it either. I wonder if I reread it if my feelings would change.

  11. Aw! Too bad you didn't like this one. Better luck with Gone With the Wind?

    Did you ever get your Downton Abbey character? I answered you in that comment the other day with a link to the quiz. :D

  12. Jillian,

    I've read Gone with the Wind before so yes, I know I like it. =O)

    I did get to take the quiz. My results are in the right sidebar near the bottom. I actually got the same character as you did. Thanks!

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