Sunday, June 03, 2018

The Scarlet Letter

It's always risky revisiting a book that one remembers from childhood or adolescence; it may live up to your memories, it may not, or you may realize that you completely missed the point as a young person.

Fortunately The Scarlet Letter and I both survived the test of the re-read. It's a wonderful book, and although I certainly didn't get the full depth of the book at 15 (or now, likely enough) neither was I entirely uncomprehending.

Interestingly, I think the version I read back then must have omitted the author's preface explaining his finding of the story-sparking manuscript, which is largely a personal polemic on the character-sapping influences of a safe government job. I found it pretty entertaining now, from the position of the envious but proud private sector.

Simultaneously, I was reading Games People Play, one of the iconic works popularizing psychology from the 1960s. There was certainly some overlap--you could certainly see Chillingsworth playing a game of Now I've Got You, You Son of a Bitch disguised as I'm Only Trying to Help You while Dimmesdale plays Kick Me. They both get what they want from the relationship. (Psychology from the 60s still sounds far more judgmental than modern works. It's fascinating to begin to feel the distance from an era that I am old enough to think of as not that long ago.)

Psychology is intriguing, but literature will always tell us more, because it shows people from the inside. Only through literature can we get to be Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingsworth and maybe even little Pearl. On the whole, I liked Dimmesdale the least this time around, for his moral cowardice. But then, at least he turned it to kindness which is better than many in his situation do. It was really Pearl he wronged the most, and perhaps that is why Hawthorne shows her the most healed by his final confession.

Also reading: The Queen's Thief series, a re-read after I got Deux hooked on it. Just an absolutely fantastic series. And The Phoenix Guards, a fantasy swashbuckler. And The Genius of Birds, which is intriguing but will not tell me a question I have been wanting to know, whether anyone has found out if rabbits can do math. And I picked up Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope at the library booksale, and it promises very well indeed. Summer Reading Challenge at the library has started and I intend to at least get the 10-hour book bag, although the 100-hour t-shirt may be a bit ambitious for me.

Next on the classics challenge roll:  Crime and Punishment. Gulp. I'm almost as intimidated by that one as by the Aeneid, but here goes.