The Scarlet Letter (First Edition) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlett Letter is a romance novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864). The first edition of this work was published in 1850 by Ticknor, Reed and Fields, Boston. Background
Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter in his Salem house. He doubted its popularity, but it became a bestseller. It was one of the first mass-produced books in America, and as such, the first edition is valuable for this reason as well as being a classic American novel.
Plot, Characters, Themes
The novel is set in Puritan 17th century Boston. It centres around the character of Hester Prynne, who becomes pregnant through an adulterous affair while waiting for her husband to arrive in America. She is given a badge, a scarlet coloured letter A, to display her sin to all of Boston. She refuses to reveal the identity of the father.
Years pass with Hester attempting to create a life of repentance and dignity, working as a seamstress as her daughter grows up. Her daughter is shunned however, said to represent the scarlet letter as Hester’s love and punishment, and they live on the outskirts of Boston. They are helped by a minister, who himself is in psychological anguish, and punishes himself in many ways for his sins.
Hester is charitable and modest and the community warms to her. It becomes clear that the minister is the father, who has an A burnt into his chest. They decide to flee to Europe together. Hester removes her scarlet letter, but her daughter does not recognise her without it and is frightened of her until she pins it back onto her dress.
As the family are about to depart, the minister realises he is about to die, and confesses to the that he is the child’s father. Hester and her daughter leave Boston, and it is unknown was fate befalls them. Many years later Hester returns to the same town alone, still wearing the scarlet letter. The townspeople accept Hester, and when she dies, bury her next to the minister.
Themes include sin and guilt, repentance and forgiveness, as well as rebellion against authority.
Nathaniel Hawthorne is considered a great writer of American Romanticism.
Notable auction sales and collecting tips
First editions of the Scarlet Letter were sold by Bonhams for $4,575 in June 2009 and $6,100 in October 2009, by Christie’s for $18,400 in December 1993, and Sothebys sold a rare presentation copy with Hawthorne’s signature for $57,000 in June 2005.
It is rare to find Hawthorne’s signature in first editions of The Scarlet Letter, and this makes them much more valuable. First editions are much more valuable in their original cloth bindings. Therefore it is not recommended to rebind, or restore them.
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