Here’s the latest response to my novel, Hester’s Daughters – a contemporary, feminist re-telling of
- The Scarlet Letter
– along with an excerpt! Great holiday gift or way to thank anyone in your life for honoring all the work women do as producers, reproducers, and community caretakers!
With her novel, Hester’s Daughters, feminist writer Elayne Clift has presented a gift to Second Wave feminists, their daughters, and granddaughters. In re-shaping Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic tale,
- The Scarlet Letter
, she elegantly reveals a 20th century Hester, a woman with courage, determination and sensitivity who forges an independent life unimaginable in Hester Prynne’s Puritan world. Clift writes from the vantage point of having been deeply involved with the women’s movement. Added to this is her skill as a writer and her deep understanding of human nature. Kudos to her for revealing a new Hester and for sharing her daughter Pearl’s story as well. They are women you won’t soon forget.
Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., is a clinical and research psychologist, an award-winning playwright and non-fiction author, and a specialist in women’s issues.
Excerpted from Hester’s Daughters * (OGN Publications, 2012) by Elayne Clift
* A contemporary, feminist retelling of The Scarlet Letter
How did a priest and a Jew become lovers? How did they first move beyond the boundaries tethering each of them to their own worlds? I don’t know the answer, and I have not intruded upon Hester to ask. But here is what I imagine might have happened:
Hester and Arthur have become friends. They are sitting in a restaurant together on a frigid winter night. They have just been to a particularly moving film together — Elvira Madigan, perhaps. The film’s theme music, Mozart’s haunting 21st Piano Concerto, has heightened awareness of their growing mutual attraction, so long and frustratingly suppressed. The table where they sit is small and round; the proximity to each other provides a new intimacy. His knee brushes hers beneath the white tablecloth; their hands touch inadvertently as they reach for their glasses of Chablis. Her eyes tear as she recalls the closing scene of the movie in which a man shoots his beautiful young lover and then kills himself because they both know a future together is impossible. Arthur is deeply moved by Hester’s weeping. Tenderly, he wipes away a tear from under her eye with the tip of his thumb. She pushes a wayward lock of hair away from her eye and taking his hand in hers, brings it to her lips, briefly, but does not kiss it.
“Hester,” he whispers, “It’s no good. I can’t go on without saying it. I love you. I love you so very much.”
“Don’t, Arthur!” she says.
But the floodgates have opened. Together, they are navigating their way to somewhere new, somewhere beyond the ancient, restraining locks. Boundaries begin to dissolve on the horizon. There is no going back.
Ice forms on the restaurant window, its crystals shimmering in reflected candlelight. Outside, snow falls and Christmas lights flicker from brightly decorated shop windows and apartments. The thought of going home, each to a solitary, cold bed, is unbearable in its starkness. So Hester agrees to go to Arthur’s apartment “for a little while.” He promises it will warm and cheer her, “yes, just for a little while.”
She trusts him, and her own strong will. He knows that he will regain control of himself once the cold air strikes his face. And so, together, deluding themselves on a white night in a season meant for sharing — for connection, for giving, and receiving — they walk together, silently, down the street.
At home, Arthur lights a bold fire. Its heat quickly warms them both. Rising from the hearth, he takes her into his arms and says again, “I love you.”
And because she loves him too – because she has loved him for years – she draws him to her. They kiss, gently and long, as if drawing sustenance, each from the other’s soul. His hand finds her breast, caresses its firmness, lingers there. She slides it under her blouse, pressing his palm to her heart as if to staunch its bleeding. Unwilling to break apart, they sink into each other, yielding to the desire they have each kept private for so long. There is no shame and afterwards, no regret. As they lie together, there is only release, and joy. Both of them know that in one brief moment, their lives have changed, sweetly, forever.
Did they only once yield to physical love? Was it then that I was conceived? Or were there more moments of passion before they agreed to end their physical liaison, maintaining only their deep friendship? The answers, irrelevant in the fullness of our lives, are Hester’s alone. But I wonder: Could there ever have been a greater passion from which to be born?