RS (rainbowstevie) wrote,

The Scarlet Letter

I had previously only read it once before, over Christmas break in high school 5 years ago.  I read it for class, but it was an independent assignment; we had a choice of 3 books and as such we had no real discussion about it save one day of introduction before we started reading.  I didn't even write a paper on it; one essay test was our only follow up.  Nevertheless, I immediately fell in love with the novel, with its richly descriptive prose, bountiful symbolism, heart-wrenching characters, and a plot that (unlike most classics) moved along at a brisk yet gripping pace.

After putting it off for most of break, I finally read it on Saturday night.  I don't know why I was so reluctant to crack the cover again, save for the fact that I've built it up so much in my memory that I was afraid it wouldn't be as amazing as I remembered.  I needn't have worried; within ten pages I was once again sucked into the Puritan world, cringing at Chillingworth's malefic presence, alternately being enchanted by and wanting to smack Pearl, and falling in love with Dimmesdale all over again. The best part was that I couldn't quite remember how it ended - I was squeeing quietly over their sweeping and ethereal meeting in the woods, ignoring the dark prickle of a memory that this wasn't going to end the way I wanted it to.  "Most depressing book ever," remember, that's why all your classmates hated it?  

I clung to my optimism anyway, and read the chapter a couple of times over to absorb it all. There's just this beautiful swell of realization and release and freedom in their meeting ("Alone, Hester!" "Thou shalt not go alone!").  Weirdly, as much as I love the romance in Austen & the Brontes novels - or at least I think I do; as with SL I've only read them once, and years ago - nothing gets to me like the moment where she finally admits who the evil old hunchbacked bastard Chillingworth is, and pleads for forgiveness because for seven years she's quietly borne the world frowning upon her, but can't bear it from him.  It's a very gratifying scene, where everything unspoken in previous chapters comes to light.  Besides, the chapter's called "A Flood of Sunshine" and it SO lives up to its name.  Everything's lovely and bright, almost too good to be true (oh, wait)...especially the bit where she not only releases her hair, but rips off the letter and flings it aside is wonderful.  (of course, then along comes Pearl, the brat, and sends her mother back under its imposition) 

And then after all that beauty comes the penultimate chapter, and no matter how many times I go over it my head still spins at the speed with which everything comes crashing down; one minute they're a day away from freedom and the next he's not only confessing everything to the town, but collapsing and on the verge of death.  It's absolutely no comfort whatsoever that at least Hester and Pearl are by his side at the end.  This kills me every damn time: 

"My little Pearl," said he feebly, - and there was a sweet and gentle smile over his face, as of a spirit sinking into deep repose - "dear little Pearl, wilt thou kiss me now?  Thou wouldst not yonder, in the forest!  But now thou wilt?"

Pearl kissed his lips.  A spell was broken.

Also broken: The silence, when I START BAWLING.  Even though for the most part Pearl is a wicked little dervish, my brain cannot shake a particular fondness for the father-daughter bond that never was.  And then he dies in Hester's arms with disquieting words and I throw the book at the wall, not caring what happens after that.  The afterword of the particular edition I was reading said something about how when Hawthorne read the conclusion to his wife, "it broke her heart and sent her to bed with a grievous headache," and I'm very tempted to follow exactly the same plan. 

But even though it's desperately sad, what I love about this novel is that it's the good kind of sad - a deep-scored ache that settles into your chest and tugs at you for a while, brings tears to your eyes
What I love about this novel is the fact that even though it's sad, it's the good kind of sad - deep-scored ache that tugs at you for a while afterwards, brings tears to your eyes and yet is so moving, albeit in a bittersweet way, that it's satisfying.  Despite its tendency to make emotional young women throw it at the wall.

Wow, I really am fangirling a classic novel.  There is clearly no way I shall ever be able to have an intelligent conversation about it with my professor when all I want to do is whimper about how tortured the poor good minister is [that's me, always in love with the angst-filled guilt complex ones], and how unfair and heartbreaking it is that they never get to run away together and have a life as the family they were so clearly meant to be...damn those Puritan mores!

P.S., I went looking for random entries about this book on LJ, because it's always fun to read the reactions of silly high schoolers/college students who are reading a classic for the first time and have no idea what's going on, and instead I found a fic entry.  Which kind of intrigued me, despite the warning of "smut," because what's written in the story between them is nice, but amounts to a mere appetizer, and I was quite ready to hear more of their relationship.  Actual transcription of my thoughts, over the course of six seconds: "Must...resist...Arthur/Hester...smut...FAIL."   I read it, and I loved it.  Romance!  Word art!  All in one!

I feel like I should feel guilty about this fact, and possibly not admit to having read it at all.  But it was a missing scene for precisely how she earned the letter in the first place, and if not for the, you know, smuttiness (I swear it didn't get past R), it could have been lifted from the pages of the novel itself.  By which I mean not so much that it's the kind of thing I actually imagine Hawthorne including, but which is one of those "click" stories where OBVIOUSLY, this was the way it happened, and is now firmly entrenched in my mind as part of the plot.  It makes me want to go hunt more fanfic, after which I slap myself in order to remember that 95% of fanfic based on literature is a horrible insult to the original work and I don't want to poison myself with it.  Still, though.  Finding that one piece was a treasure.  My high school self despises me and my depravity SO MUCH right now. 

In conclusion: Scarlet Letter = most beautiful book ever, and in fact I love it so much that for my final Literary Theory paper, I might just have to ditch my initial plan to apply cultural theory to blogs and thereby confuse the professor enough so that he has no choice but to commend my fresh and original ideas, and analyze this book from a couple of different theorists' perspectives.  Requires more scholarly thought with less room for creativity (you know, like my last paper, where I somehow related mythology to Wishbone), might be more fun to BS.  This directly contradicts my previous statement that I cannot discuss this book intelligently, but I will ignore that minor detail.
Tags: books

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