Saturday, March 6, 2010

"Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter"

Paula Reed is an English teacher at Columbine High School of Littleton, Colorado.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter, and reported the following:
Page 69:
Jane was a curious combination of the Brigadier General and her mother. She was naturally quiet and reserved, but she had a happy heart. Pearl would not have her dear friend go unnoticed. Of Jane's samplers, she would point out their finest traits, and she spoke enthusiastically of Jane's intelligence and patience. Where Pearl's creativity manifested itself, like mine, through her needle, Jane's blossomed in the kitchen, and because Jane's modesty was genuine, Pearl made it her mission to ensure that every woman present knew just how vital Jane's contributions had been to the extraordinary fare served at Wright House on that particular day. Pearl's loyalty added to her popularity, though more than once I overheard comments about how different the gregarious and agreeable child was from her reticent and disturbing mother.

One October afternoon, with victory in her eyes, Mary waved before me her latest invitation to a state banquet at Whitehall—with my name included upon the summons.

"Mary, I am no one. I am a woman living upon the generosity of you and your husband. I cannot possibly—"

"You are the mother of an heiress of whom several very important families have taken notice. You live in the home of a man who is very important to England and who knows a great many secrets of state. Sooner or later, you knew you must draw some interest. You were supposed to draw interest."

"I think I am going to be ill. All those people, all their fears and judgments…"

"Enough!" Mary scolded. "Where is my old friend? The one who so loved art and beauty? Wait until you see the ceiling of the banquet hall! You'll hardly notice anything else. Where is Hester Lathrop who smiled and laughed and danced with me in the garden of my old home?"

I smiled. "Somehow, I doubt there is dancing at Whitehall Palace these days."
Page 69 captures parallel relationships: one between Hester and her childhood friend Mary, the other between Hester’s ten-year-old Pearl and Mary’s daughter, Jane. It is also the first step in what will become the perilous path Hester must follow.

In Hester, the infamous Hester Prynne of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter has left New England for London in search of a secure future for her daughter. She reconnects with Mary Wright, whose husband is a close associate of Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan lord protector of the Commonwealth of England. Mary sets to work immediately to help Hester make the right social connections for Pearl, so she can make a good match when Pearl comes of age.

In the original novel, Hawthorne tells readers that one of the worst effects of wearing the scarlet letter is that it imparts to Hester the ability to see the sins and hypocrisy in others. Through Mary’s husband, Oliver Cromwell learns of Hester’s insight and realizes that he can exploit it to uncover traitors. Thus, Hester is dragged against her will into a web of political conflict and intrigue.

Pearl and Jane grow up in the midst of these tumultuous times, forever trying to reconcile their girlish dreams of romance with the realities of women’s lives in Cromwell’s England. From their mothers, they learn that often a woman’s most important connection is her dearest friend.
Read an excerpt from Hester, and learn more about the book and author at Paula Reed's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue