Hester Prynne is a beautiful young woman. She is also an outcast. In the eyes of her neighbours she has committed an unforgivable sin. Everyone knows that her little daughter, Pearl, is the product of an illicit affair but no one knows the identity of Pearl's father. Hester's refusal to name him brings more condemnation upon her.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804, into a family which had come to America with the first Puritan settlers. While still a boy, Hawthorne wrote to his mother that " I do not want to be a doctor and live by men's diseases ; nor a minister to live by their sins ; nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels. So I don't see there is anything left for me but to be an author.' After college, Hawthorne returned to Salem and wrote stories, including some for children, and a novel, but he did not achieve success quickly. For a time he worked in the Boston custom bouse, and later in the port of Salem. In 1850 he had his first big success with The Scarlet Letter, drawing on his knowledge of New England and Puritan life. The house of the Seven Gables (1851) also dealt with problems of guilt and sin. From 1853 to 1857 Hawthorne was American consul at Liverpool in England, and then spent two years in Italy, the setting for his novel The Marble Faun (1860). He then returned to America, where he died in 1864. Hawthorne is considered one of the great American writers. Questions of sin, crime, suffering, and guilt are never far away in his work, and his view of life is a dark one. The Scarlet Letter is still one of the mort respected works of American literature. It has been made into a play and a musical, and filmed eleven times, though one film, made in the 1990s and starring Demi Moore, annoyed many Americans. This film version had an attack by Indians, naked swimming, and Arthur and Rester riding away together in a happy ending, which of course changes Hawthorne's story completely.
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