Did Hester and Arthur really love each other, was it all just a fling, or was it some combination of both? You could probably argue the case either way, but I'm interested in what people have to say.
Certainly, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale have been drawn to each other because of the terrible loneliness and the passionate natures that they share in a passionless and grey Puritan world. Does Hester love the minister? Indubitably, yes. As already noted, she is loyal to him and refuses to implicate him in her shame. Then, after having promised Roger Chillingworth that she will not reveal his identity as her husband, Hester realizes that Chillinworth has violated the secrets of Dimmesdale's heart. Aware, therefore, of his nefarious plot to destroy Dimmesdale, in Chapter 17 Hester confers with the minister and learns of his personal misery, consoling him, "You wrong yourself...Your sin is left behind you..."; she tells the minister his good works should be penitence enough for his sin.
Further, she breaks her silence about her husband and confides in the minister that Chillingworth is her husband. And, although he exclaims that he cannot forgive her, Hester urges Dimmesdale to return to England with her where they can live together and be free of Chillingworth. Bravely, she tells the broken Dimmesdale, "Thou shall not go alone!" He replies, "O, Hester, thou art my better angel!" Truly, the minister and Hester love genuinely.
I would suggest that Hester loved Dimmesdale in that she never named him as her lover, even after she was tried before the entire town and gave birth to a child. She was jailed first and later ostracized by their Puritan community, even as Arthur Dimmesdale continued to serve the town as their preacher. Hester did this alone, protecting Dimmesdale—but it would seem not simply out of a need to protect his reputation in light of his religious calling. Instead, it seems she does so because she cared for him. Just before Dimmesdale exposes his own guilt, he and Hester had planned to take Pearl and run away, to start a new life together. Hester never left town after the child was born, though her life would have been easier. By the end of the story, as Dimmesdale lies dying on the scaffold in the town square, Hester asks him if they might not see each other on the other side, in heaven. This does not seem to be the behavior of a woman who did not love the man she had been involved with. And in order to protect him, she is scorned for years, but lives quietly and righteously, raising their daughter, but never sharing his identity with anyone.
Well, all extramarital affairs have an element of the torrid about them, but this does not mean it may not also have been true love--torrid true love. The text never analyzes what occurred between them since we enter the story when Hester faces the crowd and has her punishment and in-town banishment announced. yet the text does make it abundantly clear the two were and remained devoted to each other. This lend credence to the true love scenario while shooting down the opposing "torrid affair," as in a reckless fling scenario.
I believe that Hester did love Arthur. Given that she kept his identity secret, she had to have feelings for him. If she did not, she may have openly given up his name. While limited in justification, I think that the heart is a complicated thing. Regardless if her love was deep or not, she chose to protect him. For me, that alone speaks to her love for him.
Hester might have thought she loved Arthur, but that does not mean that Arthur loved Hester. After all, she really is the one who paid the price for that relationship.