"She seemed rather an airy sprite, which, after playing its fantastic sports for a little while upon the cottage-floor, would flit away with a mocking smile "
Fairies in a Bird's Nest (detail) (c.1860)
Public DomainFairies in a Bird's Nest (detail) (c.1860) - Credit: John Anster Fitzgerald

Sprites have long been known as capricious folk, as capable of malice and mischief as they are of unexpected kindnesses. For Puritans — who, despite their disavowal of superstition, believed in these magical beings with the utmost sincerity — they had a much darker nature. Since they have their roots in pre-Christian beliefs, the Puritans were convinced that fairies were the imps of Satan, and those suspected of having dealings with them were tried as witches. Hawthorne’s likening of Pearl to a sprite therefore signifies her alienation from the Puritan society and the laws governing it.

Mischievous fairies torment the artist in his sleep
Public DomainFairies haunt the artist in his sleep - Credit: John Anster Fitzgerald