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November 14th, 2017

and the “scribbling Women” – Michael Winship

“America is now wholly given over to a
damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while
the public taste is occupied with their trash–and should be ashamed of myself
if I did succeed. What is the mystery of these innumerable editions of The
Lamplighter, and other books neither better nor worse? Worse they could not be,
and better they need not be, when they sell by the hundred thousand.”

Michael Winship commences his critical
analysis with the above passage of Nathaniel Hawthorne, probably his most
well-known passage. It was written by Hawthorne in a private letter to William
D. Ticknor, who was his publisher and friend. The writer claims that this
passage lifted questions around gender politics, the effect of economic factors
on authors and publishers, the relationship between popularity and the quality
of literature. He finds it shocking that during the period of “American
Renaissance” in 1850s, the sentimental novels were more successful than the
classics by Hawthorne and others.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet letter’
is not just any novel, it is one of the greatest classic American fiction. From
it’s writing to publication in 1850, the sales of this novel have been remarkable.
Since its publication, this novel has never been out of print, nor indeed out
of favor from literary critics. This novel is a masterpiece of literature which
comes on the list of the top ten greatest novel of all times. It is one of the
best examples of literary marvels of that time, a unique prose than the most other
typical works. The question that arises is that how this piece of art can be
under rated by critics? What is it that’s taking critic’s attention away from
this book? For better understanding of this novel’s greatness, it requires
information of the writer of this novel whose connections with this book,
descriptions, imaginary power can only be revealed after reading this great
novel. The Scarlet Letter opens with an extended, semiautobiographical preface,
which serves the book less as an overture than as a bridge linking the past, as
portrayed in Hawthorne’s narrative, to the present and to the modern art of
referential techniques associated with modern and postmodern fiction (Bloom,
2011, p. 20).

‘The Scarlet Letter’ is a story about a
woman named Hester Prynne who lives in Massachusetts bay colony in the 1640s. Near
the very begging of the colonial, she had an adulterous affair and had a baby.
The colony makes her wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ on her chest for adulteress and
treat her as an outcast. She keeps the baby’s father a secret, but his identity
comes out at the end of the novel. The first chapter is custom house and it
tells the story of how the author was working as the administrator of a custom
house in Salem where he found an embroidered letter ‘A’, and some papers that
tells Hester Prynne’s story. When he got fired from his job he found time to
write ‘The Scarlet Letter’.

In the first scene of the novel, Hester walks
out of the jail with a baby in the arms and The Scarlet letter embroidered on
her chest. The baby is three months old. Hester was in the jail for adultery
and since no one knew who the baby’s father was, assumption for that was
discovered and she was sentenced to jail time when her pregnancy started to
show. The first thing Hester had to do was stand on a scaffold where they keep
a pillory which is device for locking people up in public. They didn’t lock her
into the pillory, but she had to stand on the platform for long time with
everyone staring at her. Eventually she saw someone at the edge of the crowd.
This man was her husband. He has sent her ahead of him to Massachusetts while
he stayed behind in the Europe and when he tried to join her he encountered
various mishaps and wound up imprisoned by native Americans. While she was
having affair and being in jail, he wanders out of the forest on exactly the
day that she is up in the front of the pillory, he didn’t tell anyone who he was,
and he puts his fingers to his lips so that way Hester can’t reveal his
identity. Governor asks to Hester about her sin and Dimmesdale to reveal the
father of this baby, so they can confess and atone for his crimes with her. But
sooner in reading, it is not hard to figure out that Dimmesdale was a father.
But at that time, Hester refuses to reveal this secret to the Governor. Later
she stayed into the jail and her husband was coming to see her posing as a
doctor, and all the time he was requesting for forgiveness. From that point he
starts to call himself as Roger Chillingworth.

When Hester was living with her baby she
skilled at sewing through and she makes fancy lace garments for officials to
wear in ceremonies through whole time. When colony’s people try to take Pearl
away from Hester, when she was 3 and half year old. Hester went to Governor and
he did ask to Pearl some religious question. At that time, she was not able to
bring answers to those questions, so governor thinks that Hester is bad mom,
but Hester appeals to Dimmesdale to speak for her. He says that God gave Pearl
to Hester to save her soul and he points out that pearl looks like the scarlet letter,
so Hester is clearly using Pearl to remember her sin and repent. Chillingworth
was the first person who find out the secret that Dimmesdale was the father of
pearl and this secret was killing him from the inside.

One day, Chillingworth goes beyond and asks
him that he must have a religious problem which was killing him. Dimmesdale
replied by saying that it is not his business, and Dimmesdale goes to sleep. When
Chillingworth opens his shirt, and sees something on his chest, and that tells
him everything. Dimmesdale wanted to confess to his congregation and he tells
colony’s people that he is a sinner, but they like him more. When he was alone,
he whips himself and starves himself and he sees vision of his parents, Pearl
and Hester.  At last, they held sermon
which was Hugh hit, it was biggest sermon ever in New England. At there,
Dimmesdale comes out and takes Hester and Pearl leads them upon the pillory
platform with him, Chillingworth tries to stop him but cannot stop him. Dimmesdale
says he should have stood with them seven years before. Then he opens his shirt
and reveals a scarlet letter on his chest at that time no one knows that how it
got there it could be sign from God or he might have scarred himself.
Dimmesdale asks Pearl she shall kiss him now and she does, Hester ask if they
will be together in Heaven and he denies saying that they need to repent for
their sin and he dies. Afterward Chillingworth dies and leaves a huge
inheritance to Pearl Hester, she leaves the colony for a while and she marries
someone rich in Europe but Hester Eventually comes back to live in her cottage
and wear her scarlet letter again.

The author draws on the decades after
Hawthorne’s death in 1864 and focuses on his widow, Sophia Hawthorne. Raising
three children by herself, her financial situation was unsatisfactory. She
threatened Fields to transfer future rights in her husband’s works to another
firm. Winship implies a comparison between Sophia and Hester Prynne, the women
who stood for themselves when they felt that the person they loved were being
used. Sophia’s instance is an excellent illustration of women claiming their
rights regarding their families, not submitting to the misconduct and scandal.
Sophia and Hester both were deemed not as valiant as men in their time, yet both
demonstrated gallantry for their causes, something remarkable at the time. They
defied to renounce the significance of their loved ones and their reputations.

Winship argues that Nathaniel Hawthorne was
clearly bothered by the successes of the female competitors. He believed that
Hawthorne was frustrated because of the numbers: in comparison to 11,800 copies
of his work ‘The Scarlet Letter’ produced by 1860, about 310,000 copies of
Harriett Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cat’ and about 90,000 copies of Maria
Susannah Cummins’s ‘The Lamplighter’ were sold. Throughout his analysis, he compares
the publication histories of ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ for
the remainder of the nineteenth century. He concludes his writing with a strong
implication that the publication and marketing played a key role in the success
and popularity of both the novels. While ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was criticized in
a strongly negative manner, ‘The Scarlet Letter’ emerged as one of the two
great classics of American Fiction, along with Melville’s ‘Moby-Dick’.






Uçum, U?ur. “A Reconsideration of Nathaniel
Hawthorne’s the Scarlet Letter.” Journal of History, Culture &
Art Research / Tarih Kültür Ve Sanat Arastirmalari Dergisi, vol. 4, no. 3,
Sept. 2015, pp. 118-126. EBSCOhost,

Bloom, H. (2011). Bloom’s Guides: The
Scarlet Letter, New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism An imprint of InfoBase