46 / CHRONICLESnStudy in Scarlet by Joseph Schwartzn”The Western custom of one wife and hardly anynmistresses.”n—H.H. MunronRoger’s Version by John Updike,nNew York: Alfred A. Knopf; $17.95.nRoger’s Version, John Updike’s latestnnovel, can be understood bestnif seen in intimate and serious connectionnwith Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ThenScarlet Letter. First, the cast of characters:nHester (Esther), Arthur Dimmesdalen(Dale Kohler), Roger Chillingworthn(Roger Lambert), and Pearln(Paula/Poopsie). The setting is NewnEngland. In both narratives, adulterynis the central incident, and in bothnRoger must play detective to discovernit. In both stories, science andnreligion/theology are or appear to benlocked in combat. Although the differencesnbetween Updike and Hawthornenare much more important than thenlikenesses, they would make no sensenwithout the likenesses. In short, Updikenhas gone back to his finest novel.nThe Centaur, in providing a specificnJoseph Schwartz is professor ofnEnglish at Marquette University.nliterary pattern from the past for interpretingnthe present (the method ofncontinuous parallels was pointed outnas the literary way of the future by T. S.nEliot in his review of Joyce’s Ulysses).nLike Eliot himself in The Waste Land,nUpdike emphasizes the past as beingnthe backdrop which gives meaning tonthe otherwise fragmentary and incomprehensiblenpresent.nIn Updike’s version of The ScarletnLetter, the characters are gready diminishedn(as well as significandy altered).nWhile both are moral oudaws,nEsther has none of Hester’s nobility.nDale, though a Chrishan believer likenDimmesdale, has none of Dimmesdale’sndignity, nor does he suffer as thenPuritan minister did. Roger, like Chillingworth,nwishes to punish the partnernof his wife’s adultery but lacksnChillingworth’s humanity gonenwrong. They are, these moderns, whatnthey have made of themselves in responsento the times—people pluckednout of a grab bag limb by limb. Thenemotions of the narrative are also diminished,nespecially love and passion.nnnAfter all, the Scarlet “A” stands fornamor as much as it does for adulteress,nangel, and admirable. The magnificentnfervid forest scene between Hesternand Dimmesdale is reduced to merenlust. Since Roger has been divorcednfrom Lillian, Esther is his second wife.nHe “understands” the betrayal of thenmarriage contract, having been there,nso to speak, before Esther and Dalencuckold him. In his novels, Updikenhas long debated whether marriage is ansacrament or a contract; Roger clearlynregards it as a contract. Hence, there isnno scarlet letter in Roger’s Version—nadultery being so common as to havenlost its meaning.nThe major difference between thentwo novels is in Updike’s shift awaynfrom Hester (and Hester and Dimmesdale)nto Roger and Roger’s debate withnDale; the implicit contest between sciencenand religion is made explicit andnbecomes the principal subject of Roger’snVersion. In a neat turn, the roles ofnthe contestants get switched: Roger,nthe weary cynic, is the (ex) ministernand professor of theology, and Dale,nthe believer, is the gifted scientist. Hisnobject is to demonstrate the existencenof God from existing physical andnbiological data, using the computer—n”the new hymn to the majesty ofnGod.” Roger, a hater of intellectualnTowers of Babel, is “determined toncrush” him. Dale may or may notn