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The Custom House Sketch: Literature

Literature Related to The Custom House Sketch

Hawthorne's Office in the Salem Custom House (photography by Aaron Toleos)

Short Works by Hawthorne Related to The Scarlet Letter:

The Gentle Boy
(in Twice-Told Tales; 1837, 1851)

Some critics see Catherine as a precursor of Hester Prynne, but there are differences too. Catherine might be called a "fanatic," and though Hester is certainly firm in her conviction that what she and Dimmesdale did "had a consecration of its own," she is hardly a fanatic.


(1849 in Aesthetic Papers; 1851 in The Snow Image and Other Twice-Told Tales)

This is one of the few works Hawthorne wrote while serving as surveyor at the Salem Custom House. A story of one hundred years of the beginning of Salem history, ending with the great snow in 1717, Hawthorne chronicles the arrival of the Puritans and the subsequent eradication of the "wild woods" and the displacement of the "wild Indian." Hawthorne mentions the Quakers and the witches in this sketch and so, as in The Scarlet Letter, calls up past events and personages as well as the tenor of those times.

Endicott and the Red Cross
(in Twice-Told Tales; 1837, 1851)

In this 1837 tale Hawthorne presents a woman also condemned to wear an "A," and like Hester, she makes the symbol lavish and voluptuous by embroidering it with gold thread.

Mrs. Hutchinson
(in the Salem Gazette, 1830)

This sketch tells of Ann Hutchinson, who was tried for her Antinomian views. Unlike the Puritans, the Antinomians believed that God's grace, not good works led to salvation. In her preface to the 2002 New Riverside edition of The Scarlet Letter, Rita K. Gollin, notes that the sketch "begins by disparaging 'public women' for ignoring the 'strong division lines of nature' but then sympathetically dramatizes Mrs. Hutchinson's stalwart self-sufficiency, anticipating Hawthorne's modulated sympathy for Hester's proud self-sufficiency and the two allusions to Mrs. Hutchinson in his novel (120 and 204)" (13).

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