I didn't enjoy this as much as I did Silas Marner, I'll admit, but it was still an good read. Personally I found Hawthorne's style a little too wordy and lumbered. That said - does one ever feel the wings of history beating about one's ears while reading this book! I didn't know anything about Hawthorne, so his biographical information was tremendously interesting - like, how his ancestor was a judge during the Salem trials. It's quite unusual in an American author to find this sense of being burdened by history, being tied to a particular place on the continent, rooted.
The story is of a Puritan town, in which a woman living without her husband becomes pregnant and gives birth to a girl. She is accused and condemned of adultery, but refuses to say who the child's father is. Her sentence is to always wear a capital A pinned on her clothing. Perversely (in the original sense of the word), she sews her A in scarlet, and embroiders it finely (she is an expert needlewoman). In time her humility and moral fibre lead to people starting to view the A as a badge of honour rather than dishonour.
I was thinking that this could make a rather fine film (thus eliminating the wordiness). A friend of mine claimed it had been filmed, with Demi Moore and Gary Oldman - I remember that monstrosity vaguely, and to me it doesn't have much to do with the spirit of the book that I'd like portrayed on the screen. The Demi Moore one is some sort of action flick. I'd like a more thoughtful tale, about the moral anguish the adulterers go through. After all, Hester admits she is a sinner. She doesn't resent her punishment on the grounds that what she did wasn't a sin and thus punishable. She wishes to be reminded of the fact that she was weak. This is a fascinating mindset to explore. Possibly someone like Tykwer could manage it.