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Blogging The Scarlet Letter: Part 5 (Chapters 9-10)

Previously in Blogging The Scarlet Letter, Hester got invited to a devil party and Dimmesdale was Captain Obvious.

Find every installment here!

Chapter 9: The Leech*

Brace yourselves: there is no dialogue in this chapter.

Roger Chillingworth, if you’ll remember from last time, is bearing a greater semblance to Gollum than ever before. He has glo’d down, so to speak.

As much as I hate to say it, Roger is a great physician by Puritan standards, and Hester’s community welcomes him like a saint. (As long as that saint was canonized by the Protestants and not the Roman Catholics.) He may be good at his job, but I can’t help feeling he’s a little Bob Kelso-esque.


Smiles never reach his eyes. Scrubs / ABC

A few things happen almost simultaneously. Some of these events we already know about, but they’re reiterated here:

  1. Chillingworth rolls into town.
  2. Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale starts looking sicker than anyone had ever seen him.
  3. Hester does scaffold time for adultery.
  4. Chillingworth goes Jerry Springer to find out who the father of Hester’s baby is.
  5. He adopts Arthur Dimmesdale as his “spiritual guide.”
  6. Dimmesdale adopts Chillingworth as his personal physician.

Are these coincidences? I can say with conviction: maybe.

In any case, the community is desperate for their minister with the lats of David Hasselhoff and the voice of Morgan Freeman to make a speedy recovery, for religion purposes.

Here’s what happens next: Chillingworth and Dimmesdale start spending a lot of time together. They take long walks on the beach. Chillingworth strives “to go deep into his patient’s bosom […] like a treasure-seeker in a dark cavern.” (What?) Many women flirt with Dimmesdale but he turns them down to discuss existential questions with Chillingworth over pancakes. They MOVE IN TOGETHER.

Roger and Art in their Massachusetts home – Movieclips / Youtube

The only thing I embellished on was the pancakes. I’m not insinuating anything, but I’m also not not insinuating anything, because there is Chillingworth/Dimmesdale fan fiction on the internet and if we’re being honest it writes itself.

via GIPHY

The “official” reason given for this canoodling is that Chillingworth can only treat his patient if he gets to know him inside and out—for “wherever there is a heart and an intellect, the diseases of the physical frame are tinged with the peculiarities of these.” Is this a NYTimes Wellness Blog piece on the health benefits of mindfulness? Maybe Dimmesdale should try meditation. Or eating his salted meats with intention.

Dimmesdale looks worse than ever and keeps putting his hand over his heart, wincing in pain.* I’m not a doctor, but I do know the symptoms of acid reflux and would recommend two Tums and avoiding spicy foods.

Chillingworth doesn’t look much better: “Now, there was something ugly and evil in his face, with [the townspeople] that not previously noticed, and which grew still the more obvious to sight.” There is no antacid for evil.

The chapter concludes with:

To sum up the matter, it grew to be a widely diffused opinion, that the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, like many other personages of especial sanctity, in all ages of the Christian world, was haunted by either Satan himself, or Satan’s emissary, in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth. This diabolical agent had the Divine permission, for a season, to burrow into the clergyman’s intimacy, and plot against his soul.

O_O

*This actually seems important.

Chapter 10: The Leech and His Patient

I can summarize the first half of this in a paraphrased conversation that takes place in Chillingworth’s laboratory:

Dimmesdale: Where did you find that unusual-looking plant?
Chillingworth: On an unmarked grave, which tells me that the person buried there died without confessing his most unforgivable sin.
Dimmesdale: How do you know that?
Chillingworth: Science.
Dimmesdale: Well have you ever thought about how he probably WANTED to confess this sin but COULDN’T
Chillingworth: One always feels much better when one confesses to one’s most terrible sin.
Dimmesdale:
Chillingworth: By “one,” I mean people in general, but also you specifically.
Dimmesdale: Sometimes one doesn’t want to be judged.
Chillingworth: Is there something you’re not telling me?
Dimmesdale: Yes. I mean NO. No.
Chillingworth: All I’m saying is, if you sinned, then Satan’s got a choke hold on one of your humors and that’s why you look like you got hit by a bus.
Dimmesdale: RUDE

It’s worth noting that as this convo goes down, Hester and Pearl make a detour through their backyard. Chillingworth mentions to Dimmesdale that he “saw [Pearl], the other day, bespatter the Governor himself with water, at the cattle-trough in Spring Lane.” RETRIBUTION!!! I feel like a proud mom.

Dimmesdale rushes out of the room. He does this “with a frantic gesture,” which I want to say looked like this. Chillingworth says “you’ll be back” with a signature Nicholas Cage smile, but unlike King George and the Continental Congress they reconcile a few hours later.

A short time after the incident, Dimmesdale falls asleep at his desk reading “a large [book] open before him on the table.” Why has he fallen asleep? The answer lies in the most meta sentence I have ever read in my short time on earth:

It must have been a work of vast ability in the somniferous school of literature.

It must have been, Nathaniel Hawthorne. It must have been.

Anyway, even though Dimmesdale usually sleeps “as fitful as a small bird hopping on a twig,” he is currently seven levels deep in his REM cycle. Chillingworth uses the opportunity to walk right up to him, lay his hand on his patient’s chest, and “thrust aside” his shirt.

What does he discover? Something that makes Hawthorne describe his facial expression as a GHASTLY RAPTURE:

Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworth, at that moment of his ecstasy, he would have had no need to ask how Satan comports himself when a precious human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom.

Not that I’m absolutely counting, but that’s two consecutive chapters that have ended with direct comparisons between the doctor and Satan.

Thoughts/conclusions:

  • It’s really starting to feel like Nathaniel Hawthorne just discovered dramatic irony and wrote this book to practice it.
  • Centuries ago, *”leech” was just another word for a physician. Chillingworth is a leech in two senses: he is a physician, but also he is literally sucking the life out of Dimmesdale.
  • The sentence “Her matronly frame was trodden under all men’s feet” feels so relevant right now.
  • What is going on underneath Dimmesdale’s shirt? Join me next time to find out if Chillingworth is off his rocker or if Dimmesdale just has an out-of-control amount of chest hair.

Find the next chapter and every installment of Blogging Scarlet Letter HERE, and an index of all our Blogging the Classics titles HERE.