A Red Letter Day

I read the Scarlet Letter in high school and (like most of the kids in my class) hated it.  Hated it.  And I was a reader. Part of it might be that I had to read it on vacation, so I was in a lounge chair, next to the Pacific Ocean, squinting at tiny print on a brown, acidic page in a cheap paperback, trying to immerse myself in….a 17th-century, Puritanical, Massachusetts winter?  Greeeat.  The fact that I hated my English teacher that semester probably didn’t hurt, either.  Years later, this is still my go-to “UGH!” book.

So imagine my surprise when it came up–again and again–in Carolyn’s live chat today.  Apparently she recently spoke on NPR (so I have that to listen to), and mentioned the book.  She just re-read it, and loved it. Huh.  Here’s what she (and some of the other peanuts) had to say:

Alexandria: Hey Carolyn, I heard you on NPR! Nice comparison of current events and the Scarlet Letter. Also, how cool was it that your English teacher called in?! It’s time for me to re-read that story.


Carolyn Hax: “TSL” was definitely worth another read–it took me a while, as I said, to get used to the language, but by about the halfway point I was completely absorbed, even page-turning. And that’s not bad for a 19th century bodice ripper in which the bodice was ripped well before readers arrived.

As for my teacher, I was at first horrified because I didn’t listen to the name as Diane introduced her, so I had no idea who it was until she spoke a bit and I recognized her voice; by then of course she had hung up. Too bad. I did look up my grade afterward, and she gave me a B+. Her name is Heidi Dawidoff, and she was a great teacher (has since retired).

Alexandria is referring to this past Wednesday’s Diane Rehm show, by the way.


The Scarlet Letter – Thank you!: Just listened to the show – Now I want to re-read the book.

washingtonpost.com: For those interested, here is the link to the show Carolyn appeared on.

Carolyn Hax: It really is a remarkable book. For a large part of it I was so caught up that I forgot to underline the good parts, but there were a few places–particularly the scene toward the end between Hester Prynne and Roger Chillingworth–where I actually wrote, “Great advice” in the margins. Hawthorne knew what drove people–both to iner peace and to their own destruction. And his war on hypocrisy was passionate.

Charlottesville, Va.: Carolyn, I just listened to your NPR discussion about The Scarlet Letter — is that really your voice? I’ve always pictured you with more of a throaty, Kathleen Turner sound!

Carolyn Hax: No, that was my backup voice.

My real voice doesn’t sound like Kathleen Turner’s, either, though I’d like it to. Maybe I’ll take up smoking.

OK, OK, so the Kathleen Turner bit isn’t really relevant. But….”Great advice”? Really?  Carolyn Hax thinks Nathaniel Hawthorne gives great advice via Hester Prynne?

Well OK.  Maybe I’ll give it another shot.  After I listen to her interview….


2 responses to “A Red Letter Day

  1. I actually really liked the Scarlet Letter in high school. I think it was because there was scandal? Or maybe because the books before it were Moby Dick and Main Street, so it was all relative? Short! Easy to understand! Not pages of mindnumbing detail! If you get a chance to re-read, I’ll be curious what you think.

  2. After listening to the NPR interview (see my more recent post for reactions) I’m surprised to learn how many people love this book. I’ve never known anyone who did. I’m convinced that it’s worth another shot. Will let you know how it goes!

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