Hester Prynne

Black and white photograph of painting of Hester Prynne by George Henry Boughton, an Anglo-American painter and illustrator, in 1881 (oil on canvas, 46" x 16"). Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Description of painting from advertisement for the painting cut from a periodical (in the Hawthorne Graphics Collection, Peabody Essex Museum):

Hester is revealed in his [Boughton's] imaginative recreation as a figure of dignity and strength who glows in the dark and brooding world of New England Puritanism around her....She stands patiently, her bag of needlework in hand, her eyes and composed features testifying to the inner strength which has sustained her through exposure on the public pillory and the continued obloquy of the townspeople....In the background a man and boy hurry through the cold night, their cloaks held to their mouths to protect them from both the frosty air and the evil vapors their imagination conceives as emanating from the scorned adulteress, yet with their eyes drawn furtively to her loveliness.

Excerpt from remarks by Dr. H. Berkley Peabody, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at SUNY Albany, on March 16, 2000, at the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Scarlet Letter at the Salem Custom House.

On Hawthorne's model for Hester Prynne by the late Dr. Joseph Flibbert:

The Quaker woman of...["The Gentle Boy" (1832)], Catherine, has a rebellious nature, defies her persecutors, demonstrates profound love for her child, and eventually gains respect from the community that had earlier persecuted her. Readers of The Scarlet Letter will recognize in this woman with richly dark hair a model for Hester Prynne, whose challenge to Puritan Boston's righteousness and hypocrisy Hawthorne would unleash about twenty years later.

(From "Nathaniel Hawthorne: Salem Personified" by Dr. Joseph Flibbert, p. 92 in Salem Cornerstones of a Historic City)