Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Salem Witch Trials
At the beginning of ch. 2, Hawthorne discusses the crowd gathered to watch Hester's ascent to the scaffold and mentions that "at a later period in the history of New England," such a crowd would have indicated that someone was about to be killed ("It could have betokened nothing short of the anticipated execution of some noted culprit . . ."). What he's alluding to are the Salem Witch Trials, which took place during the early 1690s, or about forty years after the period represented in The Scarlet Letter. (The allusion here is oblique, but, hey, this is Hawthorne. In an earlier short story, "Rappaccini's Daughter," he claims not to have written the story but to have translated it from a French story from a writer named Monsieur L'Aubepine. "L'Aubepine" is the French word for "Hawthorne," so he was claiming to have borrowed the story from himself. Talk about oblique.)
The are many websites devoted to the trials. The University of Virginia's is the best I know of. Of note: Hawthorne's interest in the trials was more than merely historical, for his great grandfather was actually one of the judges who condemned supposed "witches" to their deaths.