Hester Prynne and Her Child - The Scarlet Letter

Wearing the red letter "A" on her clothes, Hester Prynne must display the "scarlet letter" whenever she is in public.

This image depicts an artist’s interpretation of Hester Prynne, the heroine of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel “The Scarlet Letter,” with her child.

Hugues Merle (1823–1881), a French artist born on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, created this painting in 1861. He received the commission, for the oil-on-canvas, from William T. Walters (an American art collector) who lived, for a time, in Paris (where Merle was working).

Hawthorne was fond of this painting (which is now maintained at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore). According to curators at the Walters, Hawthorne considered this work the best illustration of Hester’s story:

Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of "The Scarlet Letter" (1850), regarded this painting, which William Walters commissioned from Merle in 1859, as the finest illustration of his novel.

Set in Puritan Boston, the novel relates how Hester Prynne was publicly disgraced and condemned to wear a scarlet letter "A" for adultery. Arthur Dimmesdale, the minister who fathered her child, and Roger Chillingworth, Hester's elderly husband, appear in the background [of the painting].

Merle's canvas reflects some of the same 19th-century historical interest in the Puritans as Hawthorne's book, a fascination that reached its peak with the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863.

By depicting Hester and her daughter, Pearl, in a pose that recalls that of the Madonna and Child, Merle underlines "The Scarlet Letters"' themes of sin and redemption.

Click on the image for a better view.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5184stories and lessons created

Original Release: Mar 16, 2016

Updated Last Revision: May 07, 2019

Media Credits

This painting of Hester Prynne and her child, by Hugues Merle, is maintained at the Walters Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. It is online via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.


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"Hester Prynne and Her Child - The Scarlet Letter" AwesomeStories.com. Mar 16, 2016. Jul 18, 2019.
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