Most reviewers gave Hawthorne's novel high praise at the time of its publication. Evert A. Duyckinck, one of the most influential critics of his day, called the tale a "psychological romance . . . a study of character in which the human heart is anatomized, carefully, elaborately, and with striking poetic and dramatic power." He also praised Hawthorne's departure from the overly ornate writing style popular at the time, which displayed "artifice and effort at the expense of nature and ease." Duyckinck's review was supported by that of Edwin Percy Whipple, who considered the novel "deep in thought and . . . condensed in style." A striking theme common to both critics is Hawthorne's difference from French literary models. Both saw French fiction, particularly that of George Sand (a woman novelist), as far too immoral in its depiction of issues similar to those treated in The Scarlet Letter. Whipple wrote that the novel had "utterly undermined the whole philosophy on which the French novels rest, by seeing further and deeper into the essence both of conventional and moral laws." The terms of the anti-French attitude of those early reviewers, placing Hawthorne's positive insight into convention and morality against the French lack of such insight, is of special significance. It refers inevitably to the historical fact of the 1848 revolution in France and American anxieties about its spread overseas.
This is not to say the positive critical appraisal of...
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