“GLOWS WITH THE FIRE OF A SUPPRESSED, SECRET, FEVERISH EXCITEMENT”: FIRST EDITION OF HAWTHORNE’S SCARLET LETTER IN ORIGINAL CLOTH
HAWTHORNE, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter, a Romance. Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1850. Octavo, original blind-stamped brown cloth. Housed in a custom cloth clamshell box. $6500.
First edition of Hawthorne’s American classic, one of only 2500 copies printed.
"Since 1837, when he had written [the short story] 'Endicott and the Red Cross,' he had often been tormented by a symbol—a scarlet 'A,' worn by an adultress in that tale—which had, at last, worked its way into a full-length book" (Kunitz & Haycraft, 349). The first edition of The Scarlet Letter sold out in ten days and "made Hawthorne's fame, changed his fortune and gave to our literature its first symbolic novel a year before the appearance of Melville's Moby-Dick" (Bradley et al., 652). The novel "glows with the fire of a suppressed, secret, feverish excitement… a fire that neither wanes nor lessens, but keeps at its original scorching heat for years" (Allibone I:805). First edition, Clark's typesetting states x2 and a2, no priority established, and all textual points called for. With the four pages of publisher's advertisements dated March 1, 1850, inserted between the front endpapers. Title page with "SCARLET LETTER" printed in red-orange ink. Clark A16.1. BAL 7600. This copy belonged to Allie (Alberta) Laighton, a resident of Petersburg, VA, and a relation of poet Albert Laighton, who lived in Portsmouth, NH. Allie was a schoolteacher, and the copious notes penciled on the preliminary blanks and occasional marginal hightlighting in pencil are presumably hers. Owner signature of Lafayette Laighton, presumably Allie's father, on title page; Lafayette Laighton was a shopkeeper in Portsmouth, NH, Albert Laighton's home.
Text block neatly recased in original cloth, with front inner paper hinge reinforced. Minor wear to corners and spine ends, a bit of rubbing and staining to covers, as often found, gilt bright. A very good copy in the original cloth with a nice provenance.