'The Scarlet Letter' is Published

The truth is that the situation selected by Hawthorne has more scope and depth than the one which he passed over.

It is with the subjective consequences of a sinner's act that our understanding of him begins. The murderer's blow tells us nothing of his character; but in his remorse or exultation over his deed his secret is revealed to us. So Hawthorne fixes the starting-point of his romance at Hester's prison-door, rather than at any earlier epoch of her career, because the narrative can thence, as it were, move both ways at once; all essentials of the past can be gathered up as wanted, and the reminiscences and self-knowledge of the characters can supplement the author's analysis. The story rounds itself out at once, catching light and casting shadow; and Hester's previous life seems familiar to us the moment she takes her stand upon the scaffold, -- for, in the case of an experience such as hers, a bare hint tells the whole sad story.

To write the story of the adulterous Hester Prynne and her secret lover, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, Hawthorne drew on a recent scandal in his wife’s family. As Brenda Wineapple revealed in her biography of Hawthorne, his wife’s sister, Elizabeth Peabody, had adopted as her protégé Dr. Charles Kraitsir, a Hungarian linguist. Kraitsir’s marriage had fallen apart under the strain of his wife’s multiple affairs and, leaving his wife and daughter in Philadelphia, settled in Boston. Despite the distance, he told Elizabeth, he feared that his wife would track him down and attack him.