Friday, June 1, 2012

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne / P. Craig Russell / Jill Thompson

I was 12 years old when I read Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, so naturally I had forgotten many of the details. Reading When She Woke prompted me to pick up the Classics Illustrated comics edition of The Scarlet Letter, adapted by P. Craig Russell and Jill Thompson. It was enjoyable to find more correlations between Hillary Jordan's and Hawthorne's work than I had remembered, like the red rose at the prison door, Hester's/Hannah's needlework, and the baby named Pearl.

Memories of experiencing this text as my younger self came back as I read the Puritan dialogue: "Goodwives, if only we women of virtue should have the handle of such as this Hester Prynne, would she come off with such a merciful sentence? Marry, I trow not!"

These adult women of the 17th century were as mean and intolerant as some of the girls I knew at school. I admired Hester's integrity and wept at the injustice of her situation. My youngest aunt was 16 and unmarried when she had a child; that happened a few years before I read The Scarlet Letter. Her baby's father remained a mystery, but my aunt and little cousin were treated well by everyone, as far as I could tell. I was very thankful that we didn't live in the time and place I discovered in that book. As an adult reader, I can see that this whole tale is an allegory, but that was totally above my head 40 years ago.

Hawthorne's lush prose is much abbreviated in the comics edition, of course, but the flavour remains. The art suits the story well. Watercolour illustrations are in muted shades of blue, green, red and brown. The layout features many interesting shifts in perspective. Very nicely done.

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