How could Nathaniel Hawthorne's sentence structure in The Scarlet Letter be described?

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When you read The Scarlet Letter and come across a sentence such as this one:

The child's attire, on the other hand, was distinguished by a fanciful, or, we might rather say, a fantastic ingenuity, which served, indeed, to heighten the airy charm that early began to develop itself in...

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When you read The Scarlet Letter and come across a sentence such as this one:

The child's attire, on the other hand, was distinguished by a fanciful, or, we might rather say, a fantastic ingenuity, which served, indeed, to heighten the airy charm that early began to develop itself in the little girl, but which appeared to have also a deeper meaning. (Ch. 5, "Hester at her Needle")

You might be inclined to think that Hawthorne's sentence structure is just hard. And his sentences are definitely long and complex, with embedded clauses and phrases set off by commas. He could have just said, "But the child's attire was distinguished by a fantastic ingenuity which heightened the little girl's charm, but which also had a deeper meaning." Instead, the sentence is peppered with interjections like "indeed," and "on the other hand," and hedging phrases like "we might rather say" and "appeared to." In one place he even gives us a selection of adjectives: "fanciful, or ... fantastic."

The sentences in The Scarlet Letter are often chopped up like this one, into little bite-sized phrases, that are set off by commas, which helps the reader parse the sentence, and more easily follow it.

The trends of modern literature are a far-cry from Hawthorne's nineteenth-century American standard, which can make them seem tedious simply because it's not what we're used to. But really, his sentences, though they are complex, with many dependent clauses, are not difficult to understand. Their meaning is clear, though the way he expresses himself is outdated to the modern ear.

It is also worth noting that the above long sentence is followed by this one: "We may speak further of it hereafter."

So while Hawthorne uses many long sentences with many dependent clauses, peppered with interjections, he is also capable of economizing and is able to be short and succinct. There are short sentences like this throughout the novel, which give the reader a respite from complex structures and which serve to punctuate a longer point or draw attention to something important.

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A glance at the first few sentences of chapter one shows us that Hawthorne's sentences in this novel will be long and contain a great many dependent clauses.  The first sentence reads,

"A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments, and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes." 

The sentence comprises, in fact, the entirety of the first paragraph.  To be sure, it contains a number of clauses that help to us to visualize the people and the place described by giving us a great deal of detail and visual imagery.  The sheer number of commas in the sentence helps us to see, too, just how complex the sentence is. 

Another sentence in this chapter is even longer and more complicated: 

"But on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him." 

Thus, with this sentence, the narrator has covered not only the fact that a rosebush exists here but also its exact placement, the potential benefits of that placement, the way its flowers look and smell, as well as contrast the Puritanical prison with Nature and let us know what month it is.  Again, the detail helps us to really see this scene in our mind's eye and to vividly imagine this rosebush, an important symbol in the novel.  Therefore, we could describe Hawthorne's sentence structure as long and consisting of many dependent clauses that serve to provide us with a great deal of detail.

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