Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," belongs to the period known as American romanticism, the period called, by F.O. Matthiessen, the American Renaissance. The American Renaissance took place roughly from 1840-1865, though the most significant work of this period was produced from 1850-1855. See F. O. Matthiessen's American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman, written in 1941. Matthiessen was influential in determining the canon of American writers from this period: Poe, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman.
Recent texts have challenged Matthiessen's notion of an American Renaissance, pointing out that the work of major American authors of this period did not occur in a vacuum. They were, instead, significantly influenced by the popular literature of the period.
See, in particular, David S. Reynolds's Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville, written in 1989. Reynolds points out that a subversive literature existed prior to the work of the major authors of the American Renaissance, in the form of sensational crime novels, erotic writings, humor writing, etc.
In fact, there were a number of stories circulating which