Continuation of The Scarlet Letter follows Hester Prynne and her wild daughter to Oliver Cromwell’s England.
A year after Arthur Dimmesdale confessed that Pearl was his illegitimate child comes the death of Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s vindictive estranged husband. Surprisingly, Roger’s will leaves all his substantial wealth to the girl who is not his daughter. Fearing that Pearl will never make a marriage in Puritan Boston, where she is called a witch-baby, Hester takes the eight-year-old to England. But the merry old land of her youth is gone, replaced by a dour nation under the rule of Cromwell. Dancing, theater and Christmas have been banished, and everyone wears somber gray clothes. Hester reunites with her childhood friend Mary Wright, moving with Pearl into the Wrights’ grand London house. After years of loneliness and shame, Hester and Pearl enjoy a cozy intimacy with Mary and her children. It’s when Robert Wright returns from battle in Ireland that Hester’s troubles begin. Mary’s husband is a member of Cromwell’s inner circle, and he has told the Protector of Hester’s rare gift. Since leaving Boston, she has been able to read the sin of anyone she looks at. Adulterers and hypocrites squirm in her presence, and she’s avoided at parties, but pious Cromwell uses her to root out traitors; Hester’s second sight sends many men to the Tower, to her dismay. As Cromwell becomes more paranoid and dangerous, Hester falls in with a band of Royalists (including a dashing libertine lord with whom she enjoys a casual affair) attempting to restore the monarchy. Her confidant, the newly enthroned King Charles II, helps Hester achieve her greatest wish, a good match for Pearl.
Reed’s confident debut amiably reimagines Hawthorne’s tragic heroine as a brave lady in tumultuous times, making this sequel to his literary classic a standard-issue historical novel.