Hester and Me
Pippa first met Hester Biddle when she was an undergraduate English student, then met her again during the first year of my PhD. She was an early ‘Quaker’; (1629-1696) who left behind her a handful of angry, passionate tracts protesting the wickedness of the world and asserting the power of her own faith. She was the ‘Quaker’ woman who was most often imprisoned at the time. She was a wife and mother to six boys, of whom only one lived to adulthood. And she’s been with Pippa ever since she first read her work, demanding her attention at increasingly regular intervals. Pippa’s current project is a novel based around Hester’s extraordinary life, her powerful voice, and her deep conviction.
Pippa’s project explores questions of gender and authority, with Hester preaching, publishing and travelling alone across the globe — while her husband remains rooted in the home. Hester speaks with what she believes to be the voice of divine revelation, refusing to acknowledge civil authority or limit herself to conventional expectations. What was it like to live with her? To be her husband, or her son? The idea of what it was like to be even in the same room with someone with such clarity, such conviction, fascinates Pippa and is, she hopes, at the heart of this project — as much as the question of what it is to be that person.
Pippa sees the project as creating a historical world that smells right, that feels like a place you recognize, even as it is unfamiliar in its details, and as using the genre of historical fiction as a lens through which to view recognizable contemporary issues. Hester Biddle was a remarkable and complicated woman and this project is a way of bringing her story to life, of engaging now with the questions she raises then, including exploring human relationships and interactions in a world even more restrictive than our own in terms of gender and class; and engaging the personal with the public, the religious and the political.
This is Pippa’s first novel. Previous publications include academic articles, conference papers, and short stories. Her PhD focused on representations of women negotiating the intersection of personal and professional, albeit at a very different time, and my interest in women’s lives and stories goes all the way back to my school days.
Here are three short extracts from different points in the first draft of Pippa’s project: