Re-imagining Hester Prynne
The fortune cookie said, “A childhood book will have new meaning for you.”
I was eating Chinese with a group of women writers and discussing favorite books. I mentioned Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic tale, The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne, I said, was my literary heroine. “But I wonder what ever happened to Pearl?” I mused.
That was it. Somewhere between the conversation and the cookie I knew I had to answer my own question. I also knew that I couldn’t write a historical novel; it just wasn’t in me. But I do know a lot about the Second Wave of the women’s movement. Why not put my Hester into the 20th century, replicate the main events of Hawthorne’s work within a contemporary, feminist context, then invent a life for Pearl?
So was born my first novel, Hester’s Daughters, published in January 2012.
The reason I loved The Scarlet Letter, even though like most high school students I couldn’t grasp altogether the extraordinary insight into human psychology that Hawthorne exhibited, was Hester. I was moved by her strength in the face of such isolation by her community; I admired her pride, and her absolute dignity. I loved that she embroidered the scarlet A worn on her bosom in such a way that it cast shame on those who looked upon it, not the woman who wore the mark of adultery. I admired how she came to be respected by the Puritans who had scorned her. I envied her empathy.
Hawthorne is said to have launched a new genre, the psychological romance. Both of those “tags” appeal to me. I am a romantic at heart with a good grasp of human psychology. In retelling the story of Hester Prynne through the lens of gender (and imagining Pearl as an adult who has her own love child), I hope I have honored Hawthorne and his characters.
Without a doubt they have enriched my life, and my literary aspirations.
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What the critics are saying:
“It’s a wonderful book, full of life and truth. It made me laugh and cry. Beautiful!”
“Clift renders a stirring, contemporary retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic. She captures the spirit of Hester and Pearl and recasts them in a dramatic, compelling and expansive story, cutting across time and culture to excavate connections that bind the hearts of women, no matter the century.”
“Clift delivers universal truths in complex packaging – so much so that if you have never read Hawthorne it could still be said that after reading Hester’s Daughters, you have… because the themes about the human condition that Hawthorne mined so well are just as compellingly revealed in Clift’s novel.”