. . . “the letter A, gules” . . . look it up!

On a field, sable, the letter A, gules.

One would think, with all of the “spare time” available in an unemployed life, I would be halfway through reading my list of 101 novels. Alas, it is not so. I am, however, happy to report that I finally finished reading Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s The Scarlet Letter, though I was apparently far too busy on vacation. Because I broke my promise to finish it while laying by the pool in Mexico, I forced myself to finish it while laying by the pool in Florida as soon as I returned, and I have something odd to report. I liked it far less than I did when I was a young adult, and I think that I have come up with a plausible reason (although it may partially be the fault of the long, drawn out period over which I read it.)

I found the long-suffering, self-flagellating Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale to be an annoyingly distasteful character, particularly since he was cast as kind of hero (or at least good guy) in the book. I cannot comprehend how a seemingly intelligent, strong, courageous woman like Hester Prynne could be so completely devoted to a sickly man of such weak character. I recognize that it was at least partially his inner turmoil that made him so physically weak, and his supposed charisma and intellect may have been blindingly appealing to Hester in the beginning, but it was his emotional feebleness that had the most effect on my opinion. Oh, I imagine that as a teenager I romanticized the ill-fated love of the couple and saw his infirmity as a sign of his deep, consuming attachment to Hester. However, now that I have a few relationships under my personal belt and I am older if not somewhat wiser, I know how unattractive that sort of weak, grasping personality can be. Maybe I lack the appropriate understanding of the religious fervor of the time. Maybe I am less forgiving and more jaded in my old age. But I would certainly not have been surprised if Hester completely turned her back on the Reverend after a time were it not for the fact that she was so utterly lonely and without alternatives . . . that and the additional fact that it would make for a fairly anti-climactic story arc.

Upon finishing the book, I also watched a DVR’d movie version of the The Scarlet Letter from 1995 which featured Demi Moore as Hester Prynne and Gary Oldham as Reverend Dimmesdale.  I have no problem, in theory, with Demi as Hester, although the old English speech did not suit her well, but Gary Oldham was a much more appealing Dimmesdale than in the actual book.  My main complaint is that the movie is such a complete departure from the story in the novel that it really should have been called something else.  It DID say at the beginning that it was “freely adapted” from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s text, but other than the setting, character names, and basic antagonistic love triangle, it bore very little resemblance to the original story.  Robert Duval was an excellently twisted Roger Chillingworth, though.

With that piece of classic literature behind me at long last, I quickly read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland  (commonly shortened to Alice In Wonderland) and began to search through my list for the next book I would attack.  I love crossing things off of a list, whether on paper or on a computer screen, and as I put what I considered to be a decisive black stroke through my two most recent accomplishments, I realized that at some point during my hiatus, before I began the arduous task of reading The Scarlet Letter, I had read Dashiell Hammet’s The Maltese Falcon and wrote not a single word about it.  But never fear!  I will rectify this and also share my thoughts on Alice in my next post.  I’m still not sure what book comes next . . .