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With a Foreword by
A SIGNET CLASSIC from
SIGNET CLASSIO TRADEMARK REG. U.S. PAT. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES
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HECHO EN CHICAGO, U.S.A.
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PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
15. HESTER AND PEARL
16. A FOREST WALK .
N JUNE, 1849, Nathaniel Hawthorne lost the job in years. He was forty-five years old, and although he had gained some reputation as an author of short tales, he had never earned enough by writing to support his family. Clearly his career was at a turning point. Then a few weeks later his mother died. In the aftermath he became ill. When he recovered late in the summer he began to write The Scarlet Letter, and he wrote steadily, with a speed and purpose he had never known before. He turned his suffering into imaginative energy. Perhaps that accounts for the sense of powerful emotions barely held in check that permeates the “hell-fired story," as he called it. In any event, on February 3, 1850, he read the final pages to his wife. “It broke her heart,” he wrote to a friend, “and sent her to bed with a grievous headache, which I look upon as a triumphant success.
Today all the world acknowledges Hawthorne's triumph. Among the classics of American fiction The Scarlet Letter is remarkable in several ways. It is the most economical, the most thoroughly composed and unified of our great novels. But of course these qualities cannot be accounted for by the shocking events of the previous summer. The truth is that Hawthorne had been preparing himself to write this book for twenty years. In the brooding, painstaking creation of his tales he had put in order his feelings about the New England past. He had sifted and resifted the themes and images that he uses in The Scarlet Letter. As early as 1837, for example, he had mentioned a woman condemned by