oxford world's classics
THE SCARLET LETTER
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, a descendant of the William Hawthorne who had emigrated to New England with the ﬁrst generation of Puritan settlers in 1630. Hawthorne's interest in the history and legend of his region was revealed in his early stories, which began to appear in print in the 1830s. New England Puritanism and its legacy provided Hawthorne with the means of exploring many of the themes that concerned him deeply, among them the conﬂict between patriarchal authority and the impulse to a variety of freedoms, including the freedom of the artist. Though he immersed himself in the early literature of New England, Hawthorne's own writings are peculiarly modern in some of their leading characteristics. One is the self-reﬂexiveness of narratives which make the telling a part of the tale. Another is the concern with signifying practices, with the relationships between objects (a Red Cross, a Black Veil, a Scarlet Letter) and what they come to signify.
Never willing to submit to the conventions of the realist novel, when he abandoned the short story and the sketch for longer works, Hawthorne claimed the imaginative freedom of the romance. His ﬁrst-The Scarlet Letter-was published in 1850 and brought him immediate critical recognition, if not ﬁnancial success. In quick suc- cession he completed two more romances-The House of the Seven Gables (1851) and The Blithedale Romance (1852)-and consolidated his position as a major writer of his day. After his appointment as consul at Liverpool and Manchester in 1853 Hawthorne produced no more ﬁction until 1860, when The Marble Faun was published. Returning to Massachusetts in that year after travels in France and Italy, he struggled to ﬁnish other romances but left them uncompleted at his death in 1864.
Brian Harding was a Senior Lecturer in the English Department of the University of Birmingham. He is the editor of Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown and Other Tales for the Oxford World's Classics series.
Cindy Weinstein is Professor of English at the California Institute of Technology. She is the author of Family, Kinship, and Sympathy in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Cambridge, 2004) and The Literature of Labor and the Labors of Literature: Allegory in Nineteenth- Century American Fiction (Cambridge, 2004). She is the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Harriet Beecher Stowe (Cambridge, 2004) and has contributed essays to several volumes and journals.
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