Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Last night, waiting for Joyce to emerge from the checkout line at T. J. Maxx (West Market Plaza, Akron), I was scanning the shelves that the store places there to attract impulse shoppers (viz., about everyone).  As the photo at the left reveals, the shelves now extend pretty much the entire length of the line.

As my eyes roamed across the children's books and "family" videos, I saw a surprising sight: some copies of The Scarlet Letter.  The picture on the right shows them, both on the top and the second row.  I love the top row, though--Hester and Pearl sandwiched between Bugs Bunny's Cupid Capers video and a book called Welcome to WordWorld.  A dog races across the foreground, his body spelling dog.  Clever.

There is a dog in The Scarlet Letter, sort of (and the use of the words hangdogdogged, and dogwood, which don't count). In the "Custom House" section, the narrator finds use for a true canine image (I underlined it):

To confess the truth, it was my greatest apprehension—as it would never be a measure of policy to turn out so quiet an individual as myself; and it being hardly in the nature of a public officer to resign—it was my chief trouble, therefore, that I was likely to grow grey and decrepit in the Surveyorship, and become much such another animal as the old Inspector. Might it not, in the tedious lapse of official life that lay before me, finally be with me as it was with this venerable friend—to make the dinner-hour the nucleus of the day, and to spend the rest of it, as an old dog spends it, asleep in the sunshine or in the shade? A dreary look-forward, this ....

Welcome to WordWorld, indeed!  The world of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  (I'll give you a nickel if you read that entire passage I quoted.)  My students at WRA were not especially ... fond ... of the Custom House section--I tried all sorts of ways to deal with it, retired without having found a magic formula.  Oh well: It's one of our rites of passage, diving into the Custom House section and realizing you're not in water but in the tangled prose of the man who wrote Tanglewood Tales (1853).  I grew to love that section, by the way.  It took about sixty years, though.

I also liked the juxtaposition of the B. Bunny video.  Is there a better subtitle for The Scarlet Letter than Cupid Capers?  The words bunny, rabbit, and Cupid do not appear in Hawthorne's text--ah, but caper does!

  • "Tell me! Tell me!" repeated Pearl, no longer seriously, but laughing and capering about the floor. "It is thou that must tell me!"
  • Pearl, looking at this bright wonder of a house began to caper and dance, and imperatively required that the whole breadth of sunshine should be stripped off its front, and given her to play with.
  •  Little Pearl's unwonted mood of sentiment lasted no longer; she laughed, and went capering down the hall so airily, that old Mr. Wilson raised a question whether even her tiptoes touched the floor.

Don't you love that it's Pearl who does all the capering in the novel (Hester's and Arthur's was offstage ... sigh)?  The OED defines caper thus:

 a. A frolicsome leap, like that of a playful kid; a frisky movement, esp. in dancing; said also of horses; fig. a fantastic proceeding or freak.

1592   R. Greene Quip for Vpstart Courtier sig. H2v,   You maister vsher of the dauncing schoole..stand vpon your tricks and capers.
a1616   Shakespeare As you like It (1623) ii. iv. 51   We that are true Louers, runne into strange capers.

Shakespeare freaks, by the way, will note that R. Greene is the curmudgeonly (jealous) playwright who called the Bard an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers.  And the clown Touchstone is the caper-user in As You Like It.

Meanwhile, what is The Scarlet Letter doing on that shelf of children's books at T. J. Maxx?  I opened a copy, thinking it might be a kiddie version (how could you do that? would a stork arrive one day with Pearl?), but saw that it was the full-meal-deal, Custom House section and all.  Published by venerable Penguin--but with a saucy new cover.

Maybe some stock clerk at TJ's, seeing the A on the cover, thought it was another alphabet-word book for kids.  Probably what happened.

And some unsuspecting daddy or mommy who took it home and opened it to the first page--the first sentence--would find this ...

It is a little remarkable, that—though disinclined to talk overmuch of myself and my affairs at the fireside, and to my personal friends—an autobiographical impulse should twice in my life have taken possession of me, in addressing the public.

And some little child will cry: Enough reading!  Let's caper!

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