Hard Cover. Boston: Ticknor, Reed & Fields, 1850. First Edition. Fine.
First edition, first printing. Finely bound by Bayntun-Rivière in crushed red morocco, spine lettered and ruled in gilt with ornate gilt "A" in each compartment, all edges gilt, gilt turn-ins and red decorated endpaper. Publisher's catalog dated March 1, 1850 and original cloth bound at the rear. A fine copy house in a custom cloth slipcase. BAL 7600. The Scarlet Letter is set in the author's hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, in the early 17th century, just before the onset of the infamous Salem witch trials. The novel features Hester Prynne, an adulteress facing the shame and judgment of her Puritan community. In addition to officially sanctioned public humiliation, Prynne must wear a scarlet "A" pinned to her chest as a symbol of her transgression. After being released from prison, Prynne is exiled from her church and community, and she is forced to raise her daughter, the product of her adulterous relationship, and continue her work of helping the poor in solitude. Through the juxtaposition of Prynne's social condemnation and her charitable endeavors, Hawthorne explores the themes of guilt, sin, and Puritanism. Interestingly, The Scarlet Letter was published before Hawthorne achieved literary success, as indicated by his inclusion of his introductory essay "The Custom-House," in which the author chronicles his years working in Salem prior to writing The Scarlet Letter. This essay was met with harsh criticism from his local community, prompting the inclusion of a preface in subsequent editions in which Hawthorne defends "The Custom-House," which he says "could not have been done in a better or a kindlier spirit, nor, so far as his abilities availed, with a livelier effect of truth."