In 1851 an Episcopal rector wondered why Nathaniel Hawthorne had selected the theme of adultery for his 1850 novel. “Is it, in short, because a running undertide of filth has become as requisite to a romance as death in the fifth act to a tragedy?” wrote the cleric. “We honestly believe that The Scarlet Letter has already done not a little to degrade our literature and to encourage social licentiousness.”