Deborah Noyes

"Angel and Apostle"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple NOV 16, 2006)

"The angel and apostle of the coming revelation must be a woman indeed, but lofty, pure, and beautiful: and wise, moreover, not through dusky grief, but the ethereal medium of joy."—Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter.

Angel and Apostle by Deborah NoyesWith the story of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter serving as her inspiration, Deborah Noyes recreates the life of Pearl, the "elf-child" of Hester Prynne and a father Hester has refused to identify.  Meticulously reproducing the cadence and speech of the period (and of Hawthorne's novel), Noyes imbues her debut novel with energy and literary weight, continuing Pearl's story while remaining faithful to the original which inspired it.  Her ability to include period detail and to reproduce the religious beliefs and practices of the period give additional credence to her story, and the character of Pearl is free-spirited enough to strike a chord with modern readers.

Focusing on Pearl, not Hester Prynne, who plays only a marginal role in this novel, Noyes reminds the reader in the first third of the novel of some of the key events from The Scarlet Letter.  Hester's punishment of holding her baby for three hours on the pillory, her refusal to name the baby's father, the intercession of the minister with the colony's governors so that Hester can keep her child, and the relationship of the minister with a doctor who represents Evil are all recalled here.  Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale is not mentioned by name here, however, though he is referred to as "Arthur" once early in the novel, and Roger Chillingworth, Hester's missing husband in The Scarlet Letter (thought killed by Indians) becomes Dr. Daniel Devlin here, still Evil and trying to ingratiate himself with Pearl.

Noyes does more than simply update the Hawthorne story, however.  Pearl, a free spirited child in a very repressed society, develops a strong relationship with Simon Milton, a blind boy a few years older who delights in her company and in her desire to give him a more normal life as she explores the woods and the world with him.  Pearl can sometimes be irresponsible, however, and her failure to be attentive to Simon, given his physical limitations, eventually causes a rift, both with Simon and with his older brother Nehemiah, who has entrusted Simon to Pearl.

The lives of Hester and Pearl change significantly when they accept passage on one of the Miltons' ships to England, and Hester, after fulfilling her contract to work as a personal seamstress/embroiderer, eventually buys a small cottage in the country.  Pearl grows up, marries, and has a child.  Their lives remain tied to the colonies, however, and both Pearl and her mother plan to return at some point. 

Investigating what constitutes a good life and dealing with the subjects of life and death, and salvation and sin, the novel explores universal themes within the colonial setting, but its focus on the passion of love and its aftermath give it a modern context, one to which a modern reader will respond.  When Pearl begins to relive her mother's life within her own, the themes begun in Hawthorne's novel come full circle.  Noyes's pacing parallels that of Hawthorne, and her exploration of behavior as a series of good acts or acts inspired by the Devil is consistent with his.  Lovers of literary novels will admire Noyes's thoughtful reconstruction of a period and its beliefs.  Her care in reproducing the language and style of the period are extraordinary, and her development of the character of Pearl shows the emotional tensions inherent in a life lived under a theocracy.  

  • Amazon readers rating: from 10 reviews


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About the Author:

Deborah NoyesDeborah Noyes was born in California and and spent her early years as a “military brat,” living also in Maryland, Virginia, and all over Massachusetts.

She earned a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College. She has taught writing and literature at Emerson College and Western New England College, and was a Visiting Writer in Lesley University’s MFA in Writing for Young People program. Deb is a regular faculty presenter at retreats and conferences, as both author and editor.

She writes for both children and adults and is a photographer and editor. Over the years she’s worked all manner of day jobs to support the fiction writing habit — from bartender and book reviewer to children’s book editor and zookeeper.

Deb lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with her husband and their two children, Clyde and Michaela.

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