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The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Scarlet Letter1
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

A novel set in Puritan New England in the 1640s, first published in 1850.
The novel centers on the moral censure of Hester Prynne for having an illegitimate child, on her lover's sense of guilt, and on her vengeful husband.



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE
INTRODUCTORY TO “THE SCARLET LETTER”

It is a little remarkable, that—though disinclined to talk overmuch of myself and my affairs at the fireside, and to my personal friends—an autobiographical impulse should twice in my life have taken possession of me, in addressing the public. The first time was three or four years since, when I favored the reader—inexcusably, and for no earthly reason, that either the indulgent reader or the intrusive author could imagine—with a description of my way of life in the deep quietude of an Old Manse. And now—because, beyond my deserts, I was happy enough to find a listener or two on the former occasion—I again seize the public by the button, and talk of my three years' experience in a Custom-House. The example of the famous “P. P., Clerk of this Parish,” was never more faithfully followed. The truth seems to be,however, that, when he casts his leaves forth upon the wind, the author addresses, not the many who will fling aside his volume, or never take it up, but the few who will understand him, better than most of his schoolmates and life-mates. Some authors, indeed, do far more than this, and indulge themselves in such confidential depths of revelation as could fittingly be addressed, only and exclusively, to the one heart and mind of perfect sympathy; as if the printed book, thrown at large on the wide world, were certain to find out the divided segment of the writer's own nature, and complete his circle of existence by bringing him into communion with it. It is scarcely decorous, however, to speak all, even where we speak impersonally. But—as thoughts are frozen and utterance benumbed, unless the speaker stand in some true relation with his audience—it may be pardonable to imagine that a friend, a kind and apprehensive, though not the closest friend, is listening to our talk; and then, a native reserve being thawed by this genial consciousness, we may prate of the circumstances that lie around us, and even of ourself, but still keep the inmost Me behind its veil. To this extent and within these limits, an author, methinks, may be autobiographical, without violating either the reader's rights or his own.

 

1 Reprinted here is the first edition of The Scarlet Letter, published March 1850 by Ticknor, Reed, and Fields.

 

PORTRAIT: Nathaniel Hawthorne by Thomas Phillibrown (1851; engraved from an 1850 painting by Cephas  Thompson). Courtesy NYPL Digital Gallery, the New York Public Library.

CITATION INFORMATION (in MLA format): Hawthorne, Nathaniel.  The Scarlet Letter, A Romance. Gleeditions, 17 Apr. 2011, www.gleeditions.com/thescarletletter/students/toc.asp?lid=111Originally published as The Scarlet Letter: A Romance; Ticknor, Reed, and Fields; 1850.

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