Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI)

Psychoanalytic Readings of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

David Diamond


This course will take place in a BOLLI classroom (22-person capacity) with a maximum enrollment of 15 to allow for some social distancing. The classroom will be equipped with a HEPA air purifier.

5-Week Course

Feb. 26 - March 25


​​Nathaniel Hawthorne was a preeminently psychological writer. Anticipating Freud by a half-century, Hawthorne's novels feature characters who are driven by the unconscious forces which thwart their attempts to escape from the past. After a biographical introduction to Hawthorne which sets the historical context of his fiction, we will spend the first half of the course reading and analyzing the complex psychology represented in The Scarlet Letter. We will meet the adulterous couple, Hester Prynne and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and derive an appreciation of their prolonged suffering and ultimate redemption. The remainder of the course considers the destructive history of The House of the Seven Gables and the resolution of its curse through the crisis and transformation of Holgrave, the young artist who has taken up residence in it. 

By creating psychological narratives for the protagonists, we will engage in unraveling the complex psychological motivations that drive them to their ultimate fates. Consequently, we will appreciate Hawthorne’s understanding of how unconscious crises can be used as the site of profound psychological transformation. Throughout the discussion, we will have ample time to consider the many intersections between Hawthorne’s understanding of psychology and Freud’s system of psychoanalysis. 

Group Leadership Style

Roughly the same amount of lecture and discussion.

Course Materials

Although any edition of these classic works will do, the widely available Penguin Classic paperback editions of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables are recommended for this course so, for the purpose of discussion, it will be easier for us to stay on the “same page.”  

Preparation Time

About 100 pages per week.


David Diamond is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in clinical practice in Newton, MA. He was Director of Outpatient Psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital from 1992-2010 and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. He is on the faculty of the PINE Psychoanalytic Center and is a member of the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society. He has published several scholarly articles and a book on Hawthorne’s romances.