Friday, July 16, 2010

The Scarlet Letter (excerpt)

Lillian Gish as Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, 1926.

A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators. Preceded by the beadle, and attended by an irregular procession of stern-browed men and unkindly-visaged women, Hester Prynne set forth towards the place appointed for her punishment. A crowd of eager and curious school-boys, understanding little of the matter in hand, except that it gave them a hold-holiday, ran before her progress, turning their heads continually to start into her face, and at the winking baby in her arms, and at the ignominious letter on her breast. It was no great distance, in those days, from the prison-door to the market-place. Measured by the prisoner's experience, however, it might be reckoned a journey of some length; for, haughty as her demeanour was, she perchance underwent an agony from every footstep of those that thronged to see her, as if her heart had been flung into the street for them all to spurn and trample upon. In our nature, however, there is a provision, alike marvellous and merciful, that the sufferer should should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it. With almost a serene deportment, therefore, Hester Prynne passed through this portion of her ordeal, and come to a sort of scaffold, at the western extremity of the marketplace. It stood nearly beneath the eaves of Boston's earliest church, and appeared to be a fixture there.

The Scarlet Letter, by Nathanial Hawthorne

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