"We have as yet hardly spoken of the infant"
Depiction of Pearl from the 1893 edition
Public DomainDepiction of Pearl from the 1893 edition - Credit: Frederick C. Gordon

The model for Pearl is thought to be Hawthorne and Sophia Peabody's eldest child, Una (1844-77), who was six years old when The Scarlet Letter was published. She was named after the personification of Truth in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, and photographs show her to have been a delicate, elf-like child. Una's life was beset by serious illness, loneliness and disappointment. She never fully recovered from a childhood bout of typhus, was rejected in love for her younger sister, was confined to an asylum for psychosis and lost her fiancé at sea only a short while after becoming engaged. Following her bereavement, she retreated into a convent where she died at the young age of 33.