“The The discovery of the corrected page proofs for The Scarlet Letter constitutes a significant literary find. Hawthorne’s original handwritten manuscript, used as printer’s copy, is known to have been burnt after it was returned by Fields, the publisher, to its author. Later, in the postscript of a letter to Fields, Hawthorne explained that “the M.S. of the Scarlet letter was burnt long ago.” More graphically, he told the publisher’s widow, Annie Adams, that “I put it up the chimney.” (See Matthew J. Bruccoli, “Notes on the Destruction of The Scarlet Letter Manuscript,” in Studies in Bibliography, 20 , pp. 257-259). Only the leaf bearing Hawthorne’s manuscript titlepage and table of contents survives, at the Pierpont Morgan Library (illustrated in H. Cahoon, T.V. Lange and C. Ryskamp, American Literary Autographs, no.26). Up to now, the sole text source for this novel was the first printing. Author’s corrected proofs of this period almost never survive; most having been discarded in the standard practice of publication. The textual study of these previously unknown corrected proofs may permit a reassessment of Hawthorne’s working methods in the writing and editing of his greatest novel and may perhaps suggest readings different from those in the standard edition of this classic American work.
In 1845 Hawthorne left the transcendentalist experiment at Brook Farm and returned to Salem, where he obtained through Franklin Pierce–a Bowdoin college classmate–an appointment as surveyor of the Boston Custom House, but he was summarily dismissed when a new administration took office, leaving him in severe financial straits. Though he had been very disappointed with the poor reception and lackluster sales of his previous writings, he began work on what he termed a “hell-fired story.” In the winter of 1849, the young Boston publisher James T. Fields visited Hawthorne in Salem. When asked about his recent literary efforts, Hawthorne scoffed, pointing out that the publishers were still trying to sell off a small edition of his Twice-Told Tales. “Who would risk publishing a book for me, the most unpopular writer in America?” he complained. Fields responded “I would,” and promised an edition of 2,000 copies of anything Hawthorne might write. As Fields was departing, Hawthorne produced from his desk a roll of manuscript of an unfinished novel, telling Fields “It is either very good or very bad–I don’t know which.” As Fields later recalled, “on my way up to Boston I read the germ of “The Scarlet Letter”; before I slept that night I wrote him a note all aglow with admiration of the marvelous story he had put in my hands, and told him I would come again to Salem the next day and arrange for its publication” (Fields, Hawthorne, Boston, 1876, pp.18-20). On 8 January 1850, Hawthorne promised to send copy for the printers, but complained that he could not think of a title for the work. By 15 January he had sent to Fields all but three chapters [see below] and warned that “the proof-sheets will need to be revised,” and added, “I write such an infernal hand that this is absolutely indispensable” (Letters 1843-1853, ed. Woodson et al, p.305. On 3 February 1850, Hawthorne finished reading the new novel to his wife, Sophia. “It broke her heart,” he wrote, “and sent her to bed with a grievous headache, which I look upon as a triumphant success.”
In spite of Fields’s enthusiasm, Hawthorne remained pessimistic about the reception of the book, and cautioned his friend, Horatio Bridge, that while “some portions of “The Scarlet Letter” are powerfully written,” still “my writings do not, nor ever will, appeal to the broadest class of sympathies, and therefore will not obtain a very wide popularity” (Letters 1843-1853, p.311). The novel, later lauded by Henry James as, “the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the country,” was an immediate and lasting success in spite of the fact that it dealt with a subject–adultery–not often made explicit in contemporary fiction. When it was published on 16 March 1850, it proved an immediate success, selling 2,500 copies in its first week of publication; a second printing of 2,500 copies followed a month later. See C. E. Frazer Clark, Jr., Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Descriptive Bibliography, A.16.1. Information taken from Christies click on link below.