Friday, 18 March 2011

Week 4: State - Massachusetts

Massachusetts, 'The Bay State', is the most populous state in the New England region, two-thirds of whom reside in the metropolitan area of Boston, the fifth largest city in the United States (and one of the oldest). Massachusetts is one of the most historically and culturally significant states. It is home to the site of Plymouth Rock, traditionally seen as the landing point of the Mayflower pilgrims in 1620, Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher learning in the U.S. (founded in 1636), and was witness to both the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, both iconic events in the lead up to the American Revolutionary War. Massachusetts was also the name of the Bee Gees first hit single. Not quite so historic perhaps.

Many works of fiction have been set in Massachusetts, mostly in the city of Boston. Films include The Departed, Good Will Hunting, The Social Network (Harvard University), and The Town (Charlestown, Boston). The successful television series Cheers, Ally McBeal and Boston Legal are all set in Boston. The most notable contemporary author writing out of Boston is Dennis Lehane, whose novels Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island, all set in and around the city, have been turned into critically acclaimed feature films in the last ten years. Classic works of fiction set in the state include Little Women by Louisa May Alcott set in the town of Concord during and after the Civil War, The Bostonians by Henry James set in late 19th century aristocratic Boston, and Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible which dramatised the infamous 1692 Salem Witch Trials.

Any of those would have been legitimate choices, not having read any of them myself (bar the Crucible, which is a play anyway), but instead, perhaps foolishly, I have opted to go for a much older book, one of the first mass produced works of literature to be published in the United States:

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, first published in 1850 and set in Puritan Boston in the 1640s, has a reputation for being a difficult read, though I suspect this may be down to the young age at which American children are forced to read it in school and their unfamiliarity with the language. Having gone to school in England though, where every other book we are told to read is riddled with “thou hast thy” and characters who speaketh like thiseth, I’m hoping I won't have any real problems with it.

Review to follow next week...

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