November 6th, 2021

(no subject)

I saw several references to The Scarlet Letter this year, and decided to give it a listen. Half a book later, I am ready to throw in the towel. I was expecting an Anna Karenina played out among 17-century puritans; but instead got something stylistically and artistically much more archaic, with little plot progressing at a glacial pace, and involving uninteresting barely believable characters. I nearly lost it at this passage, in which the author is clumsily instructing the reader in how important it is not to rob a person of the meaning of their existence:

As they descended the steps, it is averred that the lattice of a chamber-window was thrown open, and forth into the sunny day was thrust the face of Mistress Hibbins, Governor Bellingham’s bitter-tempered sister, and the same who, a few years later, was executed as a witch.

“Hist, hist!” said she, while her ill-omened physiognomy seemed to cast a shadow over the cheerful newness of the house. “Wilt thou go with us to-night? There will be a merry company in the forest; and I wellnigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one.”

“Make my excuse to him, so please you!” answered Hester, with a triumphant smile. “I must tarry at home, and keep watch over my little Pearl. Had they taken her from me, I would willingly have gone with thee into the forest, and signed my name in the Black Man’s book too, and that with mine own blood!”


but suffered through a couple of chapters more.

What's surprising to me is that this book had attained the status of a classic and has been taught in schools, at least until relatively recently. Why did it become so popular, and what was it intended to teach, other than to serve as a specimen of prose that reads as a cross between sentimentalism and romanticism? Also, what did people who endured it in school take from it, and why did they have to go through this ordeal?