Lee, Eliza Buckminster

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LEE, Eliza Buckminster

Born ca. 1788, Portsmouth, New Hampshire; died 22 June 1864, Boston, Massachusetts

Daughter of Joseph and Sarah Stevens Buckminster; married Thomas Lee, 1827

Left motherless as a small child, Eliza Buckminster Lee was raised by her father, a Calvinist minister. Insight can be gained into Lee's childhood through Memoirs of Rev. Joseph Buckminster, D.D., and of His Son, Rev. Joseph Stevens Buchminster (1849), which Lee wrote as a tribute to her father and brother. Lee explores the relationship between father and son and attempts to analyze and explain much of her father's behavior. Although Dr. Buckminster was instrumental in establishing better schools for girls in Portsmouth, he would not allow his daughters to attend them. Lee explains that her father "certainly cherished the Old Testament or Hebrew ideas of the greater importance of the culture of the male than the female intellect, which was the prevailing sentiment of Puritan New England."

Far from subscribing to her father's old-fashioned ideas, in Naomi; or, Boston Two Hundred Years Ago (1848), Lee argues that the strictness and unwavering bigotry of New England puritanism was responsible for ruining the lives of innocent people. The protagonist, Naomi, is an orphan (as are most of Lee's heroines) who displays Christ-like compassion. Through Naomi's story, Lee describes the town of Boston in the 1660s, emphasizing the closed-minded beliefs of the Puritans and their persecution of the Quakers. Lee warns of the dangers of amplified fear and suspicion, implying that they lead to senseless acts of persecution.

In Delusion; or, The Witch of New England (1840), as in Naomi, Lee lashes out at the hypocritical masses who blindly follow prevailing dogmas. Here Lee recounts the tale of a woman unjustly accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1692.

Parthenia; or, The Last Days of Paganism (1858), a fictional foray into fourth-century Greece and Rome, contrasts the attributes of Christianity with the superstitious beliefs of paganism. One of Lee's main arguments for the institution of Christianity is its respect and reverence for women. In contrast to her father's views, she believed that Christianity in its pure form teaches the extinction of the unnatural differences between the sexes.

In all of her writings Lee is concerned with promoting the benefits of an open mind combined with the ideals of Christianity. In Lee's romantic novels the heroines, who are gifted both morally and intellectually, show courage in both conviction and action, often sacrificing personal safety for the sake of pursuing a morally pure life. Lee said of women that "their natural timidity forbidding them to publish their thoughts to the world, prevents their conquests from being known." It seems that Lee undertook the task of redeeming these women by perpetuating and disseminating their struggles through literature.

Lee's simple but engaging prose style is only slightly marred by her overuse of similes and metaphors. Her family goes back to the seventeenth century, and her novels are replete with anecdotes culled from her family folklore. Although simplistic in her plots and in her conception of good and evil, Lee captures the spirit of early America in her novels.

Other Works:

Sketches of a New England Village (1838). Life of Jean Paul Friedrich Richter (1842). Coreggio: A Tragedy by Œhlenschlager (translated by Lee, 1846). Sappho: A Tragedy by Grillparzer (translated by Lee, 1846). Walt and Vult; or, The Twins by J. P. Richter (translated by Lee, 1846). Florence, the Parish Orphan, and a Sketch of the Village in the Last Century (1852). The Little Barefoot by B. Auerbach (translated by Lee, 1867).


Reference works:

AA. DAB. NCAB. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States.

Other references:

Brownson's Quarterly Review (Oct. 1849). North American Review (Oct. 1849).