- Title: The Scarlet Letter
- Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Publication Date: 1850
- Publisher: Boston: Ticker, Reed, and Field
Nathaniel Hawthorne, a native of Salem, Massachusetts, is known as one of America’s greatest authors. His early attempts at writing did not produce enough income to provide a living. Therefore, he took a job at the Salem Custom House, which enabled him to marry Sophie Peabody, and set up housekeeping in “The Old Manse”. Later, he was let go from the job, which resulted in the “bitter” preface to one of Hawthorne’s masterpieces, The Scarlet Letter. Of course, Hawthrorne uses the preface to introduce the novel, the letter, and create suspense. Still, his venture into the auto-biographical, attacks on coworkers, and Salem itself left critics unhappy. Pictured below: Nathanial Hawthorne, photographed by Matthew Brady, The Granger Collection, New York. “The Old Manse” home of the Hawthorne family, Concord, Mass. J. Latta/Photo Researchers. (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica).
An early review of The Scarlett Letter in The Salem Register begins, “The long expected Romance from the pen of Hawthorne has at length appeared, in all the attractive externals of bind and typography, with which the celebrated Boston publishing firm of Tickner & Co. love to adorn the volumes bearing their stamps” (Lease, 1971, p. 113). Of the novel the unidentified reviewer states, “So far as the Scarlet Letter is concerned, it will more than meet the public expectation, and increase the enviable reputation which the author long ago acquired” (p. 113). However, the critic does tears into Hawthorne’s “Preface”. The critic shares Hawthorne’s history in the position, and not so subtly mentions that Hawthorne took the job when someone else was removed. The job was assigned by politicians, which resulted in heavy changeover. The critic does not hold back, “Whether an undue sensitiveness on account of his removal, or from what other reason we know not, he seeks to vent his spite on something or somebody, by small sneers at Salem, and vilifying … his former associates” (p. 114). Surely, the attacks on Salem were not well-received in the critical world of the early U.S. which valued place and Nationalism.