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Hawthorne's Dating Problem in "The Scarlet Letter"
ANQ (2003)
  • Charlie Sweet, Eastern Kentucky University
  • Hal Blythe, Eastern Kentucky University
This article explores the dating problem in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter. In The Custom House, Hawthorne relates how he discovers several foolscap sheets written by a predecessor, Mr. Surveyor Pue, about Hester Prynne. These six sheets supposedly offer two types of accounts about Hester: aged persons, alive in the time of Pue and from whose oral testimony he had made up his narrative, remembered her, in their youth and those who had heard the tale from contemporary witnesses. A dating problem arises with the first group. Critics concur that historical documents place the events in The Scarlet Letter as starting in 1642 and ending in 1649, despite Hawthorne's claiming in paragraph two that the events occurred approximately 15 or 20 years after the settling of Salem in 1630. Evidently Hawthorne was not extremely concerned with absolute accuracy in dating historical events. But the problem worsens, Jonathan Pue was appointed Surveyor of Customs at Salem in 1752, and he died in 1760; in fact, Hawthorne alludes to having noticed the obituary in 1827. The problem can be simply stated: how could people alive during Hester's time still be living years later for Surveyor Pue to record their oral testimony? Hawthorne tries unsuccessfully to explain the age gap by noting that when they met Hester, she was a very old, but not decrepit woman.
  • Scarlet letter,
  • nathaniel hawthrone
Publication Date
Summer 2003
Citation Information
Charlie Sweet and Hal Blythe. "Hawthorne's Dating Problem in "The Scarlet Letter"" ANQ Vol. 16 Iss. 3 (2003)
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