The Yellow Ruff & The Scarlet Letter: A Source of Hawthorne's Novel

The Yellow Ruff & The Scarlet Letter: A Source of Hawthorne's Novel

The Yellow Ruff & The Scarlet Letter: A Source of Hawthorne's Novel

The Yellow Ruff & The Scarlet Letter: A Source of Hawthorne's Novel

Excerpt

The theory set forth in this book -- that Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter grew from the fertilization of a story-germ by an actual case of adultery, revenge, murder, and concealed sin -- originated in a passing curiosity about the name of the minister. The surnames of two major characters in the novel coincide with the names of prominent figures in seventeenth-century history. Was there also a historical Dimmesdale? The results of that inquiry now comprise parts of Chapters X and XII of this study. Meanwhile, the names of bona fide historical persons cited in the novel having drawn my attention, I pursued them through the books that Hawthorne read during the summer and autumn of 1849. One cluster of names led to literature reporting a sordid criminal case, which struck me as bearing a crude but fascinating likeness to Hawthorne's story; and after a closer examination of this literature I concluded that I had unearthed the body of facts which were not merely alluded to by Hawthorne but which possibly sprang into his mental structure and thence into the novel during the formative stages of that work.

This book explores the possibilities of this theory. Two factors ultimately determined the organization of material. One was the hope of keeping the novel as inviolate during its analysis as is possible in a source study. The other was the desire of grouping the evidence in such a way as to stimulate interpretation. The organizing principle, therefore, is the showing of minute parallels between elements in the novel and the case, first as to story, then characters, setting, and style. An introductory chapter sketches the outline of the case, describes the works that report it, and presents preliminary evidence that validates these works as pos-

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