Starting Off on the Wrong Foot

24 Feb

Last night I searched through the books on my nightstand, looking for the next novel on the WEM list.  Finding it, I began a quick perusal of The Scarlet Letter, promising myself that I would not to begin earnestly reading the book until I had completed my WEM questions for Jane Eyre.

I started flipping through the novel.

This is where Nathaniel Hawthorne and I got off on the wrong foot.

My Bantam Classics copy of The Scarlet Letter is 240 pages long.  In this particular version, there is an introduction called “The Custom House Introductory”.  It is forty-four pages long!  A forty-four page long intro for a story that’s less than 200 pages?!  I read Charlotte Bronte’s introduction to Jane Eyre, but it was whopping two pages!

Now the WEM rule about introductions is that if the intro is written by the author of the novel, one should read it.  If not, then don’t.

I don’t want to read a forty-four page introduction! (whining intended)

This morning I googled “Hawthorne’s The Custom House”, wanting some help deciding if I need to read this intro or not. appeared to be a trust-worthy site.  Here’s what Jan Arabas, Department of Art at Middlesex Community College, Bedford and Lowell, MA had to say:

In 1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter–a dark, brooding novel of hidden sin and expiation.  Fearing that the novel was too dark, he prefaced it with a short, lighter introduction: “The Custom House” sketch.  Hawthorne had actually worked in the Custom House as Surveyor, from 1846-1849.  In his introductory sketch, he leads the reader up to the building and through the first story offices, in a literary virtual tour.  Finally, he brings the reader to the musty and cobwebbed second floor where, he solemnly assures us, he discovered the historical records that became the novel, The Scarlet Letter.

The Salem Custom House

I see.

Guess I will be reading that introduction after all.


Posted by on February 24, 2012 in The Scarlet Letter


Tags: , , , ,

7 responses to “Starting Off on the Wrong Foot

  1. Cheryl

    February 24, 2012 at 8:24 am

    It’s a framing device. You can skip it and not miss out on any part of the story. When I read the book with my teenagers a few years ago, we skipped it. When I read it in college, we didn’t skip it. 🙂

    • Christine

      February 24, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Thanks, Cheryl. I don’t remember reading the intro when I read TSL in high school. I slugged my way through it this time: no cheating on the DIY degree. 😉

  2. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    February 24, 2012 at 9:50 am

    I’m really considering ditching the auto-biographies for now and joining you ladies. I haven’t really been articulate with my note taking until recently; some positive peer pressure might be just the thing.

    I’ve already read Don Quixote several years ago (when WEM was first published). I don’t intend to read it again — ever! I love the Book-a-Minute version!!

    Nearly done with Montaigne. I’ll see if I can load Scarlet Letter on my Kindle. I’ll ponder this and let you all know in a day or two.

    Unfortunately my house needs to be cleaned and there is no maid in sight. I really must close my book and shut down my computer and open a bottle of Pinesol.

    • Christina Joy

      February 24, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      Mine too.

    • Christine

      February 27, 2012 at 8:47 am

      We’d love to have you join us on team “novels”. Don’t tell my co-bloggers, but the autobiographies scare me!

  3. Jeannette

    February 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Join us, Adriana! That’s my vote. 🙂


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