Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter: A Novel

Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter: A Novel

by Paula Reed

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312673079
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 01/18/2011
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.75(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Paula Reed is an English teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. After surviving the tragic shooting there, she, not unlike many students and teachers who were there that day, decided the time to pursue all of one’s true passions is now. Paula’s passions are teaching and writing.

Read an Excerpt

One

Even the most domestic, mundane tasks present us with moral choices, and for better or for worse, we make them. For example, should I err to the side of maternal modesty and say that when my daughter, Pearl, was eight, she was competent with a needle, or should I speak with upright honesty and say that her talent exceeded my own at that tender age? As a girl, I, too, sat beside my mother in the lamplight and stitched samplers to hone my skills. It took me weeks to fashion "A good name is to be chosen rather than riches" in silk letters even enough to suit my mother’s exacting standards. All around this wisdom from Proverbs, I nursed a thread garden of daisies and other simple blooms. It was a fair effort, but I had much to learn.

My Pearl, her dark, glossy head bent over her frame, had been working on her new sampler all week. In time, it would read, "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind." It was to be my birthday gift, she said, which, to be fair, did give her some months to complete it. Still, when she told me what she wished to stitch, I advised her that it was too much and recommended she choose a briefer text. She was resolute. She spent the first three nights on the "A" alone, illuminating it with scrolls and flourishes. Though the colors she selected included neither scarlet nor gold, I thought perhaps it was some of her previous mischief, mocking my own design. Heaven knew, in her earliest years she had been utterly fixated upon my scarlet letter. If her current labors were some new manifestation of this, she hid it well, concentrating on every stitch without a glance or comment to me. On the night our fortunes changed, she had nearly completed the word "transformed," subtly embellishing on her own each of the letters I had blocked out for her in lead.

I found it so hard to converse with her that night. For the first seven years of her life, I had never once wondered what we should speak of. She was the empress of all our dialogue. "What does the scarlet letter mean, Mother, and why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?" And I would engage my mind in how best to answer, telling her neither the truth nor a lie. If Arthur had chosen to hide his part in our lives, who was I to reveal him?

It was in that seventh year, 1649, that he ascended the scaffold and claimed her as his own, disclosing to all the sin that had destroyed him. He kissed Pearl before the whole village and died, taking with him the only child I knew how to raise.

That is imprecise. I never knew how to raise that girl of mine. Arthur altered the child with whom I was familiar. Another Pearl descended the scaffold with me that day. After that, she had no excruciating questions to ask, so we often sat in silence.

Nearly a year had passed since then, and Pearl was carefully drawing her floss through the linen, composing wisdom I had yet to fully understand, while I adorned a christening gown with pale pink roses for the babe of a wealthy family. It was nearly finished, and the compensation I received would help pay our month’s meager expenses. I made little for my work (a relic of days when I was held in absolute contempt) and spent even less. Much of my earnings I set aside for charity. By my purchase of cloth and labor of needle, the poor of our village were clothed, and I strove as much as the wealthiest of citizens to ease the hunger of the destitute. I must, however, confess one indulgence—the lavish garments I wrought for my daughter. Once the christening gown was finished, there would be time to work on the lovely azure dress I had begun for Pearl. She was beautiful in red, but we’d both had enough of that. I had set aside my scarlet badge the day Arthur Dimmesdale died, and for reasons I could not fathom, she never asked where it went. In return, I ceased my previous involuntary yet inevitable inclination to create gowns for Pearl that echoed that mark of infamy.

"Those are fine letters," I praised her, and though she was a much more agreeable child than she had once been, she could still unnerve me with her precocity. She looked at me with my own dark eyes and said, "Yes, they are, aren’t they? When I am finished, I will stitch roses like yours around them."

She did, eventually, and though her petals were not as fine as the ones that unfurled under my needle that night, they showed much promise.

So I have made my choice: honesty above modesty. I am untransformed.

In any event, we had exhausted the conversation. It had been so many years since I had engaged in idle chatter that I’d lost whatever aptitude I once possessed, and it was an unexpected relief when someone chose that moment to knock at the door. Pearl started and pricked herself with her needle, then stuck her finger into her mouth and cast an anxious look at the door. Even though it was long past dark, and we were far from the company of others, I felt no alarm. Many times over the years, people from town had ventured to our little cottage to ask my help in calamity, and I was ever inclined to lend it, for I knew what it was to want for human kindness. All that had passed between my neighbors and me became obscured at night, and we tried to pretend that the strain between us was not there, but our ambivalence returned again with every sunrise.

The pretense was never easy, even in the dark, so when I opened the door, there was nothing strange about the rigid, discomfited stance of the aged man waiting on the wooden steps, lantern in hand. "Mistress Prynne?" he inquired, though he was well acquainted with me.

He was the Reverend John Wilson, a good and decent man, and the first to implore me to name my baby’s father so that I might not bear the burden of shame alone. When Pearl was very small, there were times that he’d shown greater patience than I with her passionate, wild temperament. In his kindness, he even spoke to the governor and urged that I be allowed to remove the letter, having borne its weight long enough in his view. In the end, it was I who chose when to remove it and I who would decide when to take it up again, but I appreciated his efforts.

It was a late-summer night, and the air outside was cool, so I invited him in and offered him the wooden chair I had been sitting in. I was about to chase Pearl from the only other seat in the room, but he preferred to stand, so in the end I let her stay and stood with him. He searched markedly for the words to express his purpose in coming, and I wished things were easier between us. As I said, he was a good man.

In the market, I still covered my hair—no sense in raising new ire while everyone foundered for the old. At home, however, I left it uncovered, and I knew that he was looking at me and remembering the young woman he had helped to sentence—the one who, before her release from jail, had been made to stand for three hours upon a scaffold, facing the scorn of the entire village. Outwardly, I had rebelled against their judgment. Instead of appearing with my head bowed and my person soberly clad, I held my head high. My long hair fell shamelessly loose down my back, and I wore a fanciful and reckless gown with the letter boldly emblazoned upon the bodice. It was a farce. Inside, I had never before known such shame. After that day, I wore only gray and kept every strand of hair hidden.

At last, he fixed his eyes on Pearl, who looked just as she always had, despite her changed nature. This appeared to reassure him, and he said, "I come on behalf of the late Roger Chillingworth."

Roger Chillingworth! There was not a soul in the village who did not endeavor, at any inconvenience, to avoid crossing that dark physician’s path, I most of all. And then I realized what he’d said. The late Roger Chillingworth. I spoke, but I hardly dared to hope, and my voice was a mere whisper. "Roger Chillingworth is dead?"

The Reverend Mister Wilson nodded. "He is, mistress."

"How?"

"Of that no one is certain. He was found in his laboratory, his body wasted and dry, but no cause was apparent. There is much conjecture about the matter. Age and a life ill-spent, the hand of his Dark Master—who can know?"

A fitting end," I murmured. That Roger had served the devil himself I had no doubt.

The minister seemed disinclined to reply. Instead, he said, "He had become a most eccentric old man. For some reason, though surely reason had no piece in it, he listed your child as his next of kin. You were to be informed immediately upon his death, and all his wealth, here and in En gland, is to go to young Pearl. I assure you, Mistress Prynne, that wealth is considerable."

For a moment, I was speechless, but Pearl looked at me, and there was no surprise in her keen gaze. She had kept that preter-natural perceptiveness with which she was born, and suddenly she was again the Pearl I knew best. "First the minister stood with us upon the scaffold," she said, "and now the old man . . . ?"

I could not keep the wonder, even relief, from my speech when I answered her. "And now the man who was my husband and once kept me from my happiness has given you the means to find yours."

"He was often nice to me, though he was old and ugly," Pearl observed, and I went to her, taking her fair, artless face between my hands.

"Roger never blamed you; I credit him for that. He soothed you as a troubled babe, and again he eases your way in the world." I pulled her close to me and closed my eyes against tears—eight years of shame for myself mingled with loathing for Roger that I had kept tightly locked away. "Yet even this act of generosity cannot buy my forgiveness of him."

"Excuse me. Your husband?" the Reverend Mister Wilson asked.

In my mind, I suppose, I had dismissed him, so I was a little taken aback that he was still there. "My husband is dead," I told him. If only I could have spoken those words a decade ago. How differently my life would have turned out.

The minister stood before me, mouth agape, dignity forgotten. "Am I to understand that old Roger Chillingworth was your husband?"

I looked past his shoulder, through the still-open door, and into the dark night beyond. I had thought myself free of Roger before and been wrong. Could it be that this time he was truly gone?

If some malicious bit of him still drifts in the damp sea air, I thought, let it stop my mouth from speaking the truth at last. I took a deep breath and said, "My husband was a scholar by the name of Roger Prynne. He was lost at sea ere my Pearl was conceived. Somehow, he denied the sea her due and, two years after, found his way back to me, a dark shadow of the man to whom I’d given my maidenhood. I once exchanged the secret of his identity for the protection of the man I loved, but it was a false deal, and I am no longer bound by it. Yes, you knew that dark shadow of my husband as Roger Chillingworth."

The words were out, and there was no misshapen demon to silence me.

The minister said nothing; he merely closed his mouth. I knew there had been much speculation about Roger’s role in Arthur’s death, but no one had ever come close to the truth: Roger had learned the identity of the man with whom I had betrayed him, and he had exacted unpardonable revenge. Afterward, there was no point in revealing our true relationship, and we had a tacit agreement to keep it to ourselves while Roger lived and I remained in my cottage by the sea.

The silence between us stretched on, and though I was much accustomed to silence, he seemed embarrassed by it, his cheeks flushing. At last he found his tongue. "Well, Mr. Chill——rather Pry——the physician has left your daughter the wealthiest girl in New En gland." He looked at my Pearl with some concern. "It is a sorry truth that even the most virtuous-seeming men may hide demons of desire and greed in their hearts. Pearl is an unusual girl, beautiful and now rich, but notorious as well, child though she may be. She will be on the edge of womanhood in but a few years . . ."

No one ever knew; it was not the shame of the scarlet letter that punished me daily. It was the knowledge it imparted—the ability to look into a man’s eyes and see what was in his heart. The Reverend Mister Wilson, I saw, still regarded Pearl as a danger. He could not forget the demon-child of those first seven years, and though it disheartened me to know this, it was a reality that I had to face.

No one in that village would ever forget the speculation that Pearl was the devil’s child. My own steadfast refusal to name a mortal father and her wildly tempestuous behavior prior to Arthur’s death had led them to draw their own fantastic conclusions. Never mind that they had finally learned that her father was simply a man—and a good man, too. They remembered only that she had once refused to bend to any will save her own dark and unnatural one: the stones and invectives she hurled at other children, even when she was very tiny, her insistence that she had not been made by God, but rather plucked by me from the rosebush that grows by the prison door. This was the Pearl they knew best.

"Others cannot comprehend her transformation, and so they do not trust it," I said to him, wondering if he might not feel chastened knowing that he was no better, but he did not seem at all abashed. He simply shook his head, and I shrugged, admitting, "I hardly trust it myself. No man in New England could love the scandalous offshoot of Hester Prynne without reserve, but for her fortune alone, many would be willing to wed her anyway."

"Precisely my concern," he agreed.

"Roger left her wealth enough to buy a fresh start, I presume, far away from the woe we have known here?" At his nod, I added, "If I may, I beseech you to speak of this to no one until we are gone."

He flushed again, and I knew that he was embarrassed by his relief that I would be quitting his province. "You are indeed a wise woman, Hester Prynne." Mumbling a hasty good-night, he made his way back out into the darkness, lantern aloft.

"Where are we going, Mother?" Pearl asked.

I tried not to feel bitter, but I had learned only to mask my emotions, not to master them. I said, "Where your father and I should have taken you long ago, child. England."

Excerpted from Hester by Paula Reed.
Copyright © 2010 by Paula Reed.
Published in February 2010 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Reading Group Guide

Upon the death of her demonic husband, Hester Prynne is left a widow, and her daughter Pearl, a wealthy heiress. Hester takes her daughter to live a quiet life in England, only to find herself drawn into the circle of the most powerful Puritan of all time, Oliver Cromwell. From the moment Hester donned the famous scarlet letter, it instilled in her the power to see the sins and hypocrisy of others, an ability not lost on the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. To Cromwell, Hester’s sight is either a sign of sorcery or a divine gift that Hester must use to assist the divinely chosen, as he deems himself, in his scheming to control England.  Since sorcery carries a death sentence, Hester is compelled against her will to use her sight to assist Cromwell. She soon finds herself entangled in a web of political intrigue, espionage, and forbidden love. Hester will carry readers away to seventeenth-century England with a deeply human story of family, love, history, desire, weakness, and the human ideal.

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Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter: A Novel 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
ALoyacano on LibraryThing 11 months ago
I had high expectations for this novel. Having taught The Scarlet Letter to my students, I was interested to see a new perspective on the character of Hester. I was a bit disappointed while reading. I found it difficult to get into the story and care about the characters. The addition of historical politics was an interesting discussion, but I do not feel that it added anything to the story line; instead, it felt as though it took me out of the story right when I began to get into a flow with Hester¿s home-life. The fact that Hester was given powers to read the sins of others was very hard to swallow. This put Hester into a possible ¿witch¿ category which really changes that whole idea behind the original text.If you are interested in a piece of historical fiction than this is for you. If you are looking for a book that feels as though it is an extension of the original than you might want to look elsewhere.
Fourpawz2 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Paula Reed has chosen to continue the story of Hester Prynne, telling us what happened to her and to her daughter, Pearl, during the years after Arthur Dimmesdale¿s death ¿ the years before she returned alone to New England to take up life again in her old cottage. Interesting idea ¿ as all such endeavors seem. These books that revolve around well-known fictional characters always seem like a good idea when I read the little descriptions of them. And I won¿t say that this is a bad book ¿ it isn¿t ¿ but I think the author did not write about the things I had expected her to, while going in certain directions that I did not expect at all. I did not, for instance, expect that Hester now has certain psychic abilities that enable her to see the sinful `aura¿ that hangs about various individuals. Worse, once I learned about this ability of hers, I did not expect Hester to be using said ability (albeit unwillingly) to help warty ol¿ Oliver Cromwell ferret out his enemies and punish the traitors. I expected more from her daughter Pearl who just becomes a sassy, willful, almost 21st century-type teenager intent upon landing her lover. And I did not expect Hester to settle for a friends-with-benefits relationship with the rakish, conspirator against Cromwell - Sir John Manning. I surely thought that after all she went through with Arthur Dimmesdale, Hester would be after something a little more solid and honest than just frequent canoodling with the randy Sir John in order to satisfy her physical needs. Not to say that I did not enjoy this book; of its kind, it was a good one ¿ not great, but good. I think I might have wanted to read a bit more about the way things were in the time of Cromwell for Reed concentrates mostly upon what happens to the conspirators against the Lord Protector rather than how it was to have to live in that time. And wishing that the author had made her heroine some other woman entirely is really rather pointless, too. No, she made her choice to write Hester¿s story as she imagined it and I made my choice to read it. This is an O.K. book. Not awful. Not great. O.K. Wish I could say more and better things about it, but I can¿t.
MollyChase on LibraryThing 11 months ago
I am reviewing this book for "Early Reviewers". I typically love historical fiction, so I was quite excited to receive this book. However, that excitement quickly faded. This book was slow paced and hard to continue reading. The basic plot was unbelievable - Hester from the Scarlett Letter packs up everything and moves back to England. While in England she becomes involved with the current political scene. There was not much action to keep me turning the pages and at some times the unbelievable plot made me put down the book for days. I find it difficult to come up with something positive to say about this novel. They only thing that I can say is that the initial idea sounded interesting - what happened to Hester after the end of the Scarlett Letter - but the actual book was not what I was looking for.
LCBrooks on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter seems to be at odds with itself. The detailed historical accounts do not marry well with the notion of Hester's ability to see others' sins. Moreover, Hester's role in English society and as a political "resource" are not believable which would be fine if Reed had not devoted so much time to historical details.
tanya2009 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
This is a modern day sequel to the classic 'The Scarlet Letter'. The author does a good job with the characters and the book flowed well and was easy to read. I recommend reading what happened to Hester Prynne and her daughter, Pearl after the original classic published in 1850.
liz_di on LibraryThing 11 months ago
This book picks up where the story of Hester in the Scarlet Letter left off. We are able to gain a deeper understanding of the long term effects of the Scarlet letter, how it was etched into Hester's soul and became a part of her that she could not shed and often did not want to. This book is rich in history and filled with the drama that was brought about by the fear of living in a time where anyone can be your enemy and betray you. It also covers Hester's relationship with her daughter, her fear that she is repeating history through her child and the acceptance that comes when she allows her to make her own decisions. I really enjoyed this book and did not want to put it down. I would highly recommend it as an interesting, page turner.
jsiegcola on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Hester Prynne, of "The Scarlet Letter" fame, has taken her illegitimate daughter Pearl, back to London to establish a better life using Pearl's inheritance. Ms. Reed, who has taught Hawthorne's novel lovingly for many years, imagines what Hester's life was like in the missing years of this famous book. Taking a clue from the historical period when Cromwell rules England after overthrowing the monarchy, the author places Hester in a household of a childhood friend, now married to a loyal follower of Oliver Cromwell. The author also endows Hester with a means of detecting the "sins" of others by staring into her fellowman's eyes, since she, who carried her guilt in the form of a scarlet "A", knows well the look of sin on others. This unfortunate gift becomes known to Cromwell, who uses her to seek out traitors to his cause. The twists and turns of this wonderfully imagined recreation match the political intrigue of England's only period of time when a king or queen didn't sit on the throne. The novel is well fleshed out with side stories of Hester's own struggles with both her past and current love life, as well as the developmental stages her daughter experiences as she grows into a beautiful but impetuous young woman.If you have never read the classic tale before, you will be delighted with this new embellishment , written in a literary style to match the previous book, but so much more readable as Ms. Reed successfully clarifies this timeless story.
KatyBee on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Although you might have barely endured Nathaniel Hawthorne¿s classic in high school, did the character of Hester Prynne capture your attention? If so, this novel was written for you. Hester: The Missing Years of the Scarlet Letter turns out to be a well-written story, weaving various themes of love, family, and women¿s roles into the historical context of Oliver Cromwell¿s England. Hester and her daughter, Pearl, come alive in this book and the author has a deft way with the language of the times. This is the first `real¿ novel from Paula Reed. (Since the actual first was a romance novel, it doesn¿t really count, does it?) She is a high school English teacher from Columbine, CO and she decided to pursue her true passions after the terrible tragedy at their school. We are fortunate that one of her passions is writing. There is a very well written Q&A section with the author at the end of the book and it sounds like her students are fortunate to have her as a teacher. Since we all can¿t return to high school and talk about the dire consequences that some life choices bring (which is too bad), Hester is a great choice for book groups. There¿s much to discuss here and it will send some readers back to the original story as adults which is a very good thing indeed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago