Nathaniel Hawthorne's masterpiece, an instant best seller when it was published in 1850, is a riveting tale of love and hatred - and all the more poignant because it actually happened.
In his introduction, an autobiographical account of his years as an American Custom House official, Hawthorne describes how he came across a parchment from which fell a fraying piece of fabric, fantastically embroidered and inscribed with the scarlet letter A.
He found himself compelled to tell the story of its owner, Hester Prynne, a young English woman who had lived in 17th-century Boston at the time when Puritan extremism - that which led to the infamous witch trials of Salem - was at its height.
The events of Hester's life provided Hawthorne with an opportunity to explore passion and guilt as well as the conflicts between religiosity and true virtue, public opinion and reality. The resulting exposé of the toxic effects of religious or ideological extremism of any form upon all that is best and most vital in human nature renders The Scarlet Letter a story of timeless relevance.
Original book cover artwork by Magda Allani.
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