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. Hawthorneinsalem.org 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
Guess I will be reading that introduction after all.