Laurie Lico Albanese’s Hester reimagines the story of the woman who inspired Hester Prynne, the tragic heroine of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
Isobel Gamble comes from a long line of red-haired Scottish women who are bestowed with a gift to see colours in sound, known today as synesthesia. In the Dark Ages and beyond such a gift was thought to be a sign of sorcery or witchcraft and history has shown us how ‘gifted women’ were treated throughout the centuries. The Salem Witch Trials, from February 1692 until May 1693 are a prime example of the dangers powerful women faced from the fear-based proselytizing of the church.
In this story, due to her husband’s poor life choices, Isobel and Edward Gamble are forced to flee to America to seek a new life. On the way, Isobel befriends the captain and nurses him back to health when he falls ill. Once in Salem, she finds herself alone when her husband returns to the sea. However, her skill with the needle paired with her gift of synesthesia allows her to support herself in a way she only dreamed of and her magnificent needlework creations become sought after by the fashion-conscious women of Salem and beyond.
During her husband’s absence, Isobel meets young, struggling writer Nathaniel Hawthorne and becomes entangled in a passionate relationship that threatens her fragile security.
Salem in the 1800’s is riddled with threads of it’s past fear-based practices and beliefs and it is within that fragile social system that Isobel and her friends must navigate.
This is a beautiful story of one woman’s courage, trust, faith and fortitude. Many threads of historical importance are woven throughout and these references illustrate how far we have come and how far we have yet to travel.
Photo credit: laurielicoalbanese.com