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Letters to the World “Series” by Jascha Kessler

October 21, 2016


Letters Editor


New York City


Dear Letters Editor:

Re Ms. Braceras’ Star Chamber [31 October]” Once upon a time in New England, violators of Puritan mores, usually women, were bound to the cucking-stool, a chair which exposed them to public reprobation, and which sometimes was mounted at one end of a long pole extended over a pond, so they would be punished by immersion. Challenged to hold their breath, those who survived the ordeal proved their innocence.  Guilty or not, few could. Puritan justice.  In the textbook of my schooldays, an engraving showed a bound, white-capped young woman, her eyes imploring deaf heaven, an image that troubled a 10 year-old.  Boys and girls listening to radio music in the turbulent and dynamic freedom of mid-20th Century America or sitting side by side behind desks from kindergarten on could never have imagined such punishment.  What did it mean to be “taken in adultery”?  Why was a young woman jeered and mocked, sometimes even stoned, or else “ducked,” into that freezing, black water?  I was reduced to helpless indignation by the caption’s description of that punishment for “sin,” a concept unknown to my upbringing, and never to become a weight burdening my life’s baggage.  Later on, of course, I learned that the first great American novel had been written a century before my birth by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a New Englander looking down from the branches of his family tree, which led back two centuries to a trunk root: a hanging judge in Salem.

Here we are, 350 years later, and THE SCARLET LETTER‘s strict standard of a long-forgotten Puritan rule of life has returned, somewhat less fatal to be set into a code of conduct in an utterly different epoch,

Jack Montague got off lucky to have been merely expelled from Yale.  Are we falling perhaps from a defunct Star Chamber lawfare towards a Cucking-Stool Redux society?  Expelled students to wear a Scarlet E?


Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA, Santa Monica, CA

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Jascha Kessler
Born in New York City, Jascha Kessler (Ph.D., Litt.D.) has received varied research grants, prizes, and writing fellowships since 1952 when he won a Major Hopwood Award for Poetry (University of Michigan). They include the NEA Fellowship in Writing, two Senior Fulbright Awards to Italy and one to Czechoslovakia. Since 1961, he has been a Professor of English & Modern Literature at UCLA, also teaching poetry, fiction, and playwrighting. In 1979, Mr. Kessler was a Rockefeller Fellow and worked at the Bellagio Study Center, completing his translation (with Amin Banani) of the Persian poet Forugh Farrokhzad: BRIDE OF ACACIAS: THE POETRY OF FORUGH FARROKHZAD (Caravan Books, Delmar, NY: 1983). He won a California Arts Council Fellowship in Fiction Writing for 1993-1994. He reviewed fiction and poetry weekly, theater and events on the air for KUSC-FM (Los Angeles) for 5 years in the 1980s; several dozen of his reviews, both broadcast and published in magazines and papers since the 1960s, have been anthologized in CONTEMPORARY LITERARY CRITICISM (Gale Research) over the decades. His literary essays have appeared widely. He also served as Arts Commissioner for the City of Santa Monica, California, from 1990-1996. In 2001, his translation of TRAVELING LIGHT from the Finnish won the Finnish Literary Translation Centre Award. Kessler has published several collections of fiction. AN EGYPTIAN BONDAGE, & Other Stories (Harper & Row, NY: 1967); DEATH COMES FOR THE BEHAVIORIST: 4 Long Stories (Lexis Press, San Francisco, CA: 1983); CLASSICAL ILLUSIONS: 28 Stories (McPherson & Co.: Kingston, NY, 1985); and TRANSMIGRATIONS: 18 Mythologems (Jazz Press: Capitola, CA: 1985). His latest collection, SIREN SONGS & CLASSICAL ILLUSIONS: 50 Stories", was published by McPherson & Co., in December of 1992. Also a novel, RAPID TRANSIT 1948: An Unsentimental Education (Xlibris 2000) and a second edition of AN EGYPTIAN BONDAGE (Xlibris 2000). He has also published three volumes of poetry: WHATEVER LOVE DECLARES (The Plantin Press: Los Angeles, CA: 1969; AFTER THE ARMIES HAVE PASSED (NYU Press: NY: 1970); and, IN MEMORY OF THE FUTURE (Kayak Press, Santa Cruz, CA: 1976). Also, revised as COLLECTED POEMS (Xlibris 2000). In 2013 his KING SOLOMON’S SEAL: 76 AND MORE FABLES, was published (xLibris.com, in hardback, paperback, ebook versions).

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