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The Salem Belle is a historical novel, a tale of vengeance and superstition set against the Salem witchcraft tragedy of 1692. Rejected by the beautiful Mary—“the Salem belle”—the bitter Trellison accuses her of witchcraft, mistakenly thinking himself motivated by religious faith. She is quickly tried and convicted, and her brother James and her fiancé, Walter, must try to rescue the persecuted woman. Engaging in its own right,The Salem Belle invites renewed interest because it is a critical source for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterwork,The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne transformed three scenes from Wheelwright’s novel for his own. In so doing, Hawthorne covertly elaborated his lifelong theme: original sin and the possibility of redemption.
Hawthorne scholar Richard Kopley, who has recovered The Salem Belle for twenty-first-century literary study, introduces and annotates Wheelwright’s novel, providing relevant historical details as well as pertinent details about Wheelwright’s life and reading. Kopley also furnishes three appendixes that will facilitate understanding ofThe Salem Belle and further analysis of its place in American literary history.