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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 88

which have to seem at once long enough to constitute a cycle of penance and also brief enough to present a drama of which all the parts knit solidly together under the spectator’s eye. Something more than mere technical devices, however, rounds out and compacts the story—something more than the scrupulous disposition of tableaux and the recurrence of that overshadowing symbol which is sewed upon Hester’s bosom and burned upon Dimmesdale’s; which is significantly and exquisitely woven into Pearl’s very nature, and which, rather too artificially, is blazoned upon the sky. Hawthorne gives every evidence of having moved through his first and greatest long romance with an unfaltering stride, never obliged to consider how he should construct because the story grew almost of itself, and never at a loss for substance because his mind was perfectly stored—neither too much nor too little—with the finest materials of observation and reflection gathered during a lifetime. For three years he had written almost nothing; now all the power that he had unconsciously hoarded freed itself and flowed into his book; now all the quarter-century of discipline in form and texture effortlessly shaped an abundant flood.
  The historian should not hint at too much that is merely mystical in the making of The Scarlet Letter; it is an achievement of deliberate art grown competent and unconscious by careful exercise. At the same time, the impact which the story makes may be traced back of Hawthorne’s own art and personality to the Puritan tradition which, much as he might disagree with it on occasion, he had none the less inherited. An ancestral strain accounts for this conception of adultery as an affair not of the



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