Charles R(aymond) Larson Kirkus Reviews - Essay

Kirkus Reviews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Arthur Dimmesdale is] Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter revisited—to no apparent purpose. Dimmesdale, you'll remember, is the Puritan minister tortured by his association with the sin for which Hester Prynne wears the scarlet letter "A" on her breast. Larson's Dimmesdale, however, is an explicit adulterer who gets Hester with child and damns both; his suffering afterwards is mental (a Puritan conscience and hell-fire fear inflamed beyond balm) and physical (stigmata—an "A", naturally—that appears on the skin of his chest). Indeed, Dimmesdale appears about to be consumed alive with guilt when Roger Chillingworth intervenes, offering Indian shaman cures and hypnosis. And the ordeal ends only when Hester, in secret forest meetings, reveals to Dimmesdale that she'd actually been married (chastely) to Chillingworth in England—where he was a magician, an evil shaman who is now devilishly bent upon prompting Dimmesdale's destruction under the guise of ministering to him. Larson …, seemingly aware of this re-telling's pointlessness, occasionally studs it with academic, self-conscious jokes. (Dimmesdale, digesting the significance of the "A": "Accouchement or amblosis? He was afraid to ask … Agenbite of inwit about their allogamous affair?") But such arch asides only tend to highlight the thinness of this inert exercise.

A review of "Arthur Dimmesdale," in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. L, No. 15, August 1, 1982, p. 893.