Sedgwick, Catharine Maria: Title Commentary

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Hope Leslie

Hope Leslie


SOURCE: Castiglia, Christopher. "In Praise of Extravagant Women: Hope Leslie and the Captivity Romance." Legacy 6, no. 2 (fall 1989): 3-16.

In the following essay, Castiglia presents an analysis of Hope Leslie as a frontier romance that subverts racial and gender stereotypes.

The many exploits of the American Adam are by now well recorded. Adam is the quintessential adventurer, devoting his life to what Thoreau in Walden calls "extra-vagance": "I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extra-vagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limits of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the truth of which I have been convinced.… I desire to speak somewhere without bounds" (240). Life beyond limits, beyond restriction, lived by a wandering hero unencumbered by the mundane details of home and society—this is the nineteenth-century Adam's American dream.1

But if extra-vagance was Adam's lot, what was Eve's? Stating that "there is no picaresque tradition among women who are novelists," Mary Morris is not alone in lamenting the less adventurous plots allotted to women.

From Penelope to the present, women have waited—for a phone call, for a date, for a marriage proposal, for the man to return from sea or war or a business trip. To wait is to be powerless. Like patients and prisoners, women have waited for the freedom to enter the world.


A literature of imprisonment implies, however, a potential compensatory mythology of jail-break. Just such a tradition is established in the women-authored captivity romances, beginning with Susanna Rowson's Reuben and Rachel in 1798 and reaching an apogee in 1827 with Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie. 2 Rejecting the agency of men and overcoming the limitations imposed on women, finding strength in shared female identity and history, it is, ironically, the captivity romance that creates the first expression of female extravagance in America. In its fictionalization, the captivity narrative becomes not a tale of imprisonment primarily, but a tale of liberation, uniquely woman-centured.

In creating novels of female extra-vagance in the American wilderness, the authors of the captivity romance simultaneously altered stereotypes about people of color and about the "proper" character and domain of women. Recognizing in Hope Leslie a frontier romance with a difference, critics have focused on Sedgwick's subversion of the racial and gender stereotypes endorsed by the wilderness mythology of James Fenimore Cooper and his male contemporaries, which privileges weak, infantilized women, isolated and in need of protection from the attacks of savage barbarians.3 Edward Foster notes that Cooper's novels "never center primarily on women—or 'females' as he often calls them—and … he had a decided preference for passive rather than self-reliant women" (91). Leland Person draws the contrast even more sharply. While Cooper's novels "establish triangular, doubly exploitative relationships among Indian and white males and white women that reinforce male fantasies of chivalrous protection, rescue, and revenge" (671), the woman-authored frontier romance represents "an alternative tradition that was more sympathetic to women and Indians—and to their intermarriage" (677). Featuring strong women who draw fortitude from interracial cooperation and empowering sisterhood, the woman-authored frontier narrative subverts the elements of narratives such as Cooper's, and by so doing challenges what Sandra Zagarell calls "the collusion between established narrative structures and racist, patriarchal definitions of the nation" (233).

While I agree completely with readings of Hope Leslie as a subversion of the racist and misogynistic assumptions of the traditional wilderness tale, I question the situating of Sedgwick's subversion solely within the framework of The Last of the Mohicans. The frontier mythology was not, after all, the only source of restrictive stereotypes about women, nor was it, therefore, the only narrative needing Sedgwick's revision. Cooper's novels stand synecdochically for a larger cultural inscription of women's proper character found in the enormous outpouring of domestic literature—pamphlets, editorials, manuals, and novels—authored by both men and women. While challenging the assumptions of the frontier romance, Hope Leslie also questions a more pervasive system of definitions of "womanhood," stereotypes that inform—but are in no sense limited to—Cooper's characterizations of women. Using a "domestic" perspective to render Cooper's wilderness more humane, Sedgwick also deploys the frontier romance to dismantle many of the assumptions of domestic literature, bringing the wilderness—and American history—into the home. Questioning her culture's situation of "female virtue" within a specific and potentially narrow site—the home—the captivity romance, as Hope Leslie best demonstrates, allows women to take their domesticity on the road.

I am not arguing that the captivity romance represents a complete abandonment of domestic ideals. On the contrary, the captivity romance bears many of the marks of domestic fiction: sentimental depictions of homelife; the centrality of motherhood; faith in Christian mercy. Above all, the captivity romance comes to celebrate a system of "separate spheres" that creates strong female communities. In these novels, the heroine's adoption into an alternative community is the apparently inherent result of and the surest means of escape from her confinement.4 The dialectic of confinement and community central to the captivity romance embodies the phenomenon, documented by Nancy Cott, of the "group consciousness" that emerged among early nineteenth-century American women due to a separation of spheres. Cott describes how industrialization forced women's consignment to a domestic sphere ideologically and physically divorced from the public sphere of commerce and politics. To justify their exclusion from the public realm, women were credited with a "natural" aptitude for "domestic influence, religious morality, and child nurture"—in short, for domesticity. But the attribution of special characteristics that marked each woman as inherently different from all men yet like all others of her sex, gave women, along with their domestic confinement, a common ground on which to gather, to sympathize, to identify. "Women's sphere" became, then, not only a site of exclusion, but of identity that, shared with others in the same social category, provided the basis of community. The intended cultural invisibility of women led instead to a strong cultural presence, giving rise to the sense of a specifically female identity that made American feminism possible (201).

The phenomenon described by Cott provides a specific example of the dialectic between restriction and knowledge written of by Michel Foucault. A society enacts "punishment, supervision, and constraint" (29), Foucault writes, in order "to repress, to prevent, to exclude, to eliminate" (24) some portion of itself. The social exercise of constraint, for Foucault, manipulates the labor forces of the body (25). Yet the confined body becomes, paradoxically, not invisible or submissive, but the site of a "field of knowledge," which Foucault calls "the soul": "psyche, subjectivity, personality, consciousness, etc." (29-30). Foucault's discussion of power-knowledge also accounts for the emergence of a group identity. When, through regulation and control, society isolates and contains an entire set of people, the act of containment gives the group status as a group. The constituted "body of knowledge" is not a single but a collective soul, with definable boundaries and codes, rituals and characteristics. While serving as the machinery of repression, then, confinement also constitutes a recognizable community.5

In the fictional topography of the captivity romance, the social transformation of the home from a place of constraint to one of empowerment is literalized into two separate sites: the former represented by the place of the heroine's confinement, the latter by her new-found community. Between lies the wilderness, the liminal space in which the heroine moves from captivity to community; historical change is dramatized as a physical journey—a jail-break—from one space to the other. By making the frontier a precondition for domestic community, the women-authored captivity romances challenge a literary and critical tradition that more typically opposes the wilderness to society.6 While masculine extra-vagance seeks to leave behind a stifling community in favor of a romanticized solitude, female extravagance offers escape from a stifling isolation into an empowering community.

Although Hope Leslie and the other captivity romances in some ways resemble the domestic novel, to ignore Sedgwick's challenge to central elements of domestic literature is to underestimate her subversive critique of "religion, motherhood, home, and family" (145)—the four elements Jane Tompkins identifies as the roots of sentimental, or "domestic," fiction. Through the following discussion of Hope Leslie, I hope to keep both sides of Sedgwick's critique in view, in order to see how, by conflating and altering two genres, Sedgwick creates a heroine who can dwell in the wilderness without becoming a "rugged" (i.e., racist, misogynistic, antisocial) individualist, but can also enjoy the best of nineteenth-century domesticity without becoming, In Barbara Welter's words, a "hostage in the house" (151).

The captivity romance in general, and Hope Leslie in particular, challenge the twin narratives of religion and sentiment that together defined women's character in Victorian America. In contract to the mercantile practicality of the masculine sphere of politics and commerce, Victorian women were characterized, at least ideologically, by their religious devotion and by their sovereignty over matters of the heart. Often, however, the rhetoric of women's mastery of virtue and emotion idealized and therefore masked the reality of women's restriction and disempowerment. While hearing their moral superiority extolled, women were also reminded of their subordination to the needs of their families and to the wills of their husbands. As one minister told his female congregants in 1832, "the world concedes to you the honor of exerting an influence, all but divine; but an influence you lose the power to exert, the moment you depart from the sphere and delicacy of your proper character" (Cott 158). While religion sanctified women for their centrality—and subjugation—within the limited world of their families, the rhetoric of romance, by glorifying marriage, idealized the loss of a woman's financial and social autonomy. Nominally privileging women for their transcendence over the brutish standards of the marketplace, then, religion and sentimentalism also formed the cornerstones of women's domestic prison. The captivity romance's challenge to dominant nineteenth-century assumptions about woman's "natural" character and her "proper sphere" begins, then, with its refusal of religion and of romance, with their attendant "captivities" of marriage and housewifery.

The principal villain in the captivity romance is organized religion. While initially placing great stock in the promise of religion—especially Puritanism—to better the lives of women, the captivity romance eventually shows instead the efforts of religious leaders to control women by prescribing their romantic and domestic identities. The depiction of the domestic hypocrisy of Puritanism and of its disastrous consequences for women is a central concern of Harriet Cheney's A Peep at the Pilgrims (1824). Cheney's novel contains a humorous yet pointed debate between Mr. Wilson and Mrs. Winthrop. When the latter points out the hypocrisy of Roger Williams, who fought for freedom of conscience and then punished his wife for disagreeing with him, the former contends that in this, anyway, Williams was correct: men owe their loyalty to God; women owe theirs to husbands. A more serious and haunting presence in the novel is Anne Hutchinson, whose trial demonstrates the unwillingness of Puritan men to grant women the same freedom of conscience for which they themselves, according to Cheney, came to America.

Opposed to the masculine Puritanism—judgmental, hypocritical, and intolerant—Cheney represents a more gentle, forgiving, and open-minded theology: Puritanism as practiced by the novel's women. "Feminized" Puritanism, Cheney implies, is not only the healthiest and most virtuous, but has the power to convert the men of America. When near the end of the novel Edward Atherton (the only character apart from the narrator to praise Hutchinson) converts to Puritanism in order to marry the novel's heroine, he explicitly names Puritanism as the faith of his mother. A Peep at the Pilgrims ends with a different vision of Puritanism, then, and of "home rule." In Cheney's novel husbands are brought by their wives to a matriarchal religion: a truly woman-centered faith.

Less sanguine than Cheney, Sedgwick presents a strong indictment of religion in the opening chapters of Hope Leslie. Sedgwick's novel begins in England, where the nefarious William Fletcher has maneuvered to have his nephew (also named Will Fletcher), a wayward Puritan-sympathizer, fall in love with his daughter, Alice. By arranging this match, William hopes to force his nephew to forego his Puritan leanings and return to the established church. Will does in fact fall in love with his cousin, but when the elder Fletcher presents him with an ultimatum—disavow Puritanism or lose Alice's hand—Will resolves to flee temptation by taking passage to the New World. Alice, ignoring the wishes of her father, follows her beloved to the pier, determined to join him in his emigration. While Will is on board, arranging for Alice's passage and for a minister to marry them en route, Alice's father and a host of guards arrive to restrain Alice and to separate her from the young Puritan. Will stays in England hoping to remedy his situation, but to no avail. Finally he joins his friend John Winthrop aboard the Arbella, and Alice is eventually married to a respectable Anglican, Sir Leslie.

Throughout this episode, Puritanism is privileged as a means to break with the wills—and the pun is surely deliberate—of the English Fathers (even if in doing so one is subjected to another Will), and for its promise of a community ruled by values advantageous to women. Sedgwick shows Puritanism breaking the patrimony of traditional English values; in fact, the greedy and manipulative Uncle William portrays Puritanism in terms of a matrilineage: "'Liberty, what is it! Daughter of disloyalty and mother of all misrule'" (8). Puritanism further carries with it an anti-hierarchical rhetoric of equality, democracy, and community: as Uncle William says, the Puritans in the New World "'might enjoy with the savages that primitive equality, about which they make such a pather'" (8). Finally, by offering women the option of duty and sacrifice to God, Puritanism provides women with an escape from traditional romance plots. As Jane Tompkins writes, "By ceding themselves to the source of all power, [women] bypass worldly (male) authority, and as it were, cancel it out" (Sensational Designs 163). Alice Fletcher, a captive in England, becomes a conventional abandoned heroine of sentimental fiction:7 "impotent," living "in absolute retirement," she "in the imbecility of utter despair, submitted to her father's commands" (13-14).

Once in the New World, Will Fletcher remains, in a sense, true to the original promise of Puritanism. But before long Will, "mortified at seeing power, which had been earned at so dear a rate, and which he had fondly hoped was to be applied to the advancement of man's happiness, sometimes perverted to purposes of oppression and personal aggrandizement" (16), shuns the Puritan community by moving to a village on the edge of the colony, then to the edge of the village, and finally to the edge of Puritan morality itself.

Yet the more obvious victim of the betrayal of Puritan rhetoric—of its perversion into a mode of oppression—is not Will but Martha, the pitiable orphan Will marries in America. Knowing that Will still loves Alice, Martha nevertheless joins him in a wilderness settlement where she raises a son, Everell, and a number of daughters. Without consulting her, Will further burdens Martha with two captive Indian children—Magawisca and Oneco—as well as Hope and Faith, the two orphaned children of Alice Leslie who, widowed, dies during the voyage she is finally able to make to the New World. Will Fletcher goes to Boston to take custody of his wards. Sending Faith on to Springfield, he stays behind in Boston with Hope, the image of her mother—the Oedipal, as well as allegorical, attachment of Will and Hope continues unresolved tension throughout the novel. While Mr. Fletcher remains for no fewer than three seasons in Boston.

his little community at Bethel proceeded more harmoniously than could have been hoped from the discordant materials of which it was composed. This was owing, in great part, to the wise and gentle Mrs. Fletcher, the sun of her little system.


In Sedgwick's depiction of the first generation of settlers, only Mrs. Fletcher's home comes close to realizing the equality and community with which the Puritans were associated in England. It is also a world without authoritative men (there are male servants, whom, due to their low position in the social hierarchy, Sedgwick aligns with the other disempowered members of Mrs. Fletcher's household). This depiction of a peaceful, equitable domestic world devoid of the harsh and hierarchizing law of men sows the narrative seeds of a vision—of a harmonious world composed of women, children, servants, and Indians—that the rest of the novel will struggle to bring to fruition. It also reveals Sedgwick's link with the domestic novel, in which, as Tompkins writes, "The removal of the male from the center to the periphery of the human sphere" is "one of the most radical components" (Sensational Designs 145).

While apparently offering a domestic model, however, Mrs. Fletcher's community also questions the ideals of family and religion upon which Victorian domesticity was based. The Fletcher "home" is more like an orphanage than the traditional nuclear family that became the core of domestic morality. All the central characters except Everell are either orphans or have been taken from their natural homes. The disruption of the nuclear family, furthermore, is ironically the product of religion: the death of Alice Fletcher and the subsequent orphaning of her children is the result, Sedgwick implies, of her weakened state, brought about by the religious intolerance of her father. Magawisca and Oneco still have a father—the Pequod chief, Mononotto—but are separated from him by Puritan warfare waged against the Indians, justified by religious rhetoric. Mrs. Fletcher's household stands, then, as a challenge to the linkage of biological kinship and social harmony, and as a critique of religions that dismember the families they claim to revere.

Even "motherhood" is questioned in Sedgwick's depiction of Martha Fletcher's "little community." As her name indicates, Martha is the woman who serves—she serves the myth of English, male superiority.8 She has unwavering faith in the protection offered by men. Although she has been warned by the old Indian woman, Nelema, that the Fletcher home is in danger of an Indian attack, Martha does not move her family to a nearby fort because she hears that her husband is expected from Boston shortly, and trusts in his protection. Because of this decision Martha and most of her children are slaughtered by Pequods, and Everell and Faith taken hostage. Martha must be murdered—in the way Virginia Woolf writes of needing to murder the Angel in the House9—if Magawisca and Hope, her surrogate daughters, are to achieve their potential as women heroes. With the death of Martha Fletcher, her daughters are freed from the living proof of Puritanism's failure to relieve women from the limits of their existence, or to substitute "feminine" values for "masculine" ones.10

The model for Martha Fletcher was perhaps Sedgwick's own mother, Pamela Dwight Sedgwick, whose life Sedgwick describes in The Life and Letters of Catharine M. Sedgwick (1872). Like Martha, Pamela Sedgwick was her husband's second love. Theodore Sedgwick first married Eliza Mason, who died within a year of their marriage. Throughout Theodore's life, he received annual visits from the spirit of his "girl wife," who "always came to restore to him those days of young romantic love—the passages of after life vanished" (25-26). Like Will Fletcher, Theodore remarried, not for love, but for convenience: "In that time, marriage was essential to a man's life; there were no arrangements independent of it, no substitutions for it" (26). As a Congressman, Theodore Sedgwick was away from home for most of the year, leaving his wife, as Will leaves Martha, "for many months in this cold northern country, with young children, a large household, complicated concerns, and the necessity of economy" (27). Like her Puritan precursor, Pamela Sedgwick, although "oppressed with cares and responsibilities" and frequently "afflicted with the severest anguish, from an apprehension that her life was useless," "never once expressed a feeling of impatience" (37). Her mother was kept silent, Sedgwick implies, by the double-bind of sentiment and piety. She "uttered no complaint" (28) because "she knew she was most tenderly beloved, and held in the very highest respect by my father" (28). Harry Sedgwick adds that his mother "'seemed sweetly to repose on the pillow of Faith, and, when tortured by pain and debilitated by disease, she not only sustained herself, but was the comfort, support, and delight of her family.'" "'Such,'" he notes, "'was the strength of her submissive piety'" (37). Sedgwick concludes that the pressures placed upon her mother caused bouts of insanity and her death at the age of 54. Theodore Sedgwick remarried a year later.

Despite Sedgwick's purported admiration for her mother's patience—and for Martha's—she ultimately valorizes her father's life over her mother's.

Her sufferings are past, and, I doubt not, prepared her to enjoy more keenly the rest and felicities of heaven. The good done by my father in trying to establish the government, and to swell that amount of political virtue which makes the history of the Federal party the record of the purest patriotism the world has known—that remains.


Theodore's claim that Pamela was "'exemplary in all her sufferings'" (30) notwithstanding, Catharine had other, less patient, less passive roles in mind. Significantly, it is precisely those instruments of her mother's martyrdom—romantic sentiment and piety—that Sedgwick—who left the orthodox church and never married—chose to reject in her own life.11

Hope faces a further threat that her creator—choosing "to stamp all the coin of my kindness with a sister's affection" (Life 98) rather than to marry—managed successfully (although not without effort) to avoid. More dangerous than the restrictive model of womanhood offered by the heroine's mother is the deployment of romance—that mainstay of domestic literature—by her fathers, both biological and surrogate. Jessy Oliver in Reuben and Rachel is locked in a secluded castle until she agrees to marry the man her father has chosen for her, while in A Peep at the Pilgrims Miriam Grey is pressured by her father to marry the most intolerant and lifeless of the Puritans. John Winthrop himself stoops to matchmaking in Hope Leslie, contriving to involve Hope with Sir Philip Gardiner, whom Winthrop, along with the other elders, sees as "the selected medium of a special kindness of Providence to them" (249). The reader knows, however, that Sir Philip is an Anglican and a follower of the heretic, Thomas Morton. Winthrop is blinded to Gardiner's heresies, Sedgwick implies, because he perceives Hope Leslie, with her flouting of "feminine" roles, as more dangerous to the state than the Popish affectations of a male stranger. Winthrop deploys Gardiner as a mode of restriction; as he tells Will Fletcher, by arranging a romance for Hope, he means to put "jesses" on the overly-independent girl. Through the association of Winthrop and Gardiner, Sedgwick makes it clear that, where women are concerned, romance is the foremost tool of official restriction. Sedgwick makes the connection even more obvious in a subtle play on Calvinist theology. Governor Winthrop comments on the wayward Hope, "'I have thought the child rests too much on performances; and you must allow, that she hath not, I speak it tenderly, that passiveness, that, next to godliness, is a woman's best virtue'" (153). Sedgwick shows Winthrop converting the Puritan skepticism towards a covenant of works into a justification for theocratically enforced female passivity.

Despite the restrictions imposed upon her, however, the heroine of the captivity romance inevitably chooses—and achieves—adventure over romance. Jessy Oliver escapes her father's prison and joins her friend Rachel "'in search of adventure.'" She tells Rachel, "'We will live together in humble, but contented independence'" (II:278). And rather than marry a stuffy Puritan, Miriam Grey takes to the wilderness, where she is taken captive by Indians, "adopted" by the sachem's wife, and eventually freed. In Hope Leslie, too, despite the efforts of the matchmaking brethren (Sedgwick nicely reverses gender stereotypes by making men the gossips and arrangers), Hope maintains her independence from all romantic entanglements, preferring the life of an extra-vagant adventurer. When Sir Philip tells Hope, "'If I had a charmed shield, I would devote my life to sheltering you from all harm,'" she responds, "'It's useless talking in this rattling storm, your words drop to the ground with the hail-stones'" (193). When Sir Philip then gallantly offers Hope his cloak, she protests, "'the cloak will but encumber me'" (193). Representing chivalric romance, Philip believes that "'ladies must have lovers—idols must have worshippers, or they are no longer idols'" (201). When it comes to fetishized women, Sedgwick momentarily realigns herself with Puritan theology and its iconoclastic aversion to idols.

Sedgwick's association of orthodox religion and romance, and her ultimate rejection of both,12 is most clear at the conclusion of Hope Leslie. Sir Philip is escaping Boston on a pirate ship with a disguised woman the reader believes to be Hope Leslie. Also on board is Rosa, a young girl Sir Philip wooed from a convent, seduced, and then abandoned. Rosa, who spends the entire novel pining and sighing, is a stereotypical sentimental heroine, wasting away under the spell of romantic enthrallment. Ironically, Rosa's one act of disobedience brings both herself and Sir Philip to their deaths. Descending into the hull of the ship, Sir Philip asks Rosa to hand him the lantern she carries, but instead Rosa flings the lantern into a powder-keg, exploding the ship and all its passengers. The woman blown up with the ship is not, of course, Hope Leslie. Arriving at the Winthrop house late at night to abduct Hope, the pirate sent for that purpose instead kidnaps Jennet, the Fletchers' servant. Moralizing and interfering, Jennet represents Puritanism at its most intolerant and restrictive. She is what one might call today "male identified," seeking to out-Puritan the brethren. In one fell swoop, then, Sedgwick kills off—literally and figuratively—the two New World threats to the freedom of her female hero: romantic enthrallment and religious restriction.

Although the novel ends with the marriage of Everell and Hope Leslie, their union does not constitute a traditional euphoric ending, in which heterosexual coupling is rendered as the perfect closure to a heroine's life and of a woman author's narrative. Defying narrative conventions, Sedgwick minimalizes the importance of the marriage: while we are told the ultimate fate of every minor character in the novel in some detail, we learn nothing about the actual wedding: all we learn is that it makes society happy. Sedgwick concludes the novel by commenting of Esther Downing, who has escaped heartbreak by devoting her life to Christian duty.

She illustrated a truth, which if more generally received by her sex, might save a vast deal of misery: that marriage is not essential to the contentment, the dignity, or the happiness of woman.


In the end the restrictions of the heterosexual romance—exposed as the means by which the fathers proscribe the lives of their daughters—are replaced in Hope Leslie by sibling affection and female community. Magawisca hails Everell as a brother more than as a lover. Esther, too, in the note informing Everell and Hope of her departure to England, writes that she "'shall hereafter feel a sister's love [for Everell], who will not withold a brother's kindness'" (347). Even Hope's feelings for Everell are described by Sedgwick in terms that valorize sisterly affection over romantic love: "It has been said that the love of a brother and sister is the only platonic affection. This truth (if it be a truth) is the conviction of an experience far beyond our heroine's" (224). Passion and possession are replaced at the end of the novel with mutuality and friendship. The epigraph to the final chapter is taken from La Rochefoucauld, and encapsulates the novel's social vision—and Sedgwick's contribution to the frontier romance tradition. "Quelque rare que soit le veritable amour, il l'est encore moins que la veritable amitie" ("However rare true love is, it is less rare than true friendship") (336).

Sedgwick refuses to depict her heroines as antagonistic rivals for the novel's eligible bachelor, a novelistic device that makes a woman's relationship to a man more important than any she might have with another woman. Rather, traditional romance is subordinated to an ideal of female community that spans racial difference.13 Magawisca, Hope, and Faith become literal sisters when, in the only happy interracial marriage in nineteenth-century American literature,14 Faith Leslie marries Magawisca's brother, Oneco. But the novel's women become comrades as well, providing mutual support and sharing a spiritual motherhood (the meeting of Faith, Hope, and Magawisca occurs at the gravesites of their two mothers, who, Magawisca tells Hope, bless the reunion). Even Rosa, the most remote woman in the novel, is mourned at the end as "a fallen, unhappy sister" (348). The sisterhood that evolves in Hope Leslie contrasts ironically with the men who, although "brethren," rarely act as brothers. Romance is displaced by the end of the novel by friendship, between Hope and Everell, but more significantly among the various women in the novel—white and Indian—substituting mutuality and support for subservience and hierarchy.

To further subvert religion and romance, Sedgwick's female heroes defy Puritan rule (both the active rule of the Fathers and the passive acquiescence of the Mothers) by turning the Puritan errand into a female quest. The quest is embodied by Sedgwick in a sophisticated narrative pattern of female imprisonment and escape. Although the image of imprisonment by men and release by women is pervasive, the most striking depictions of female extra-vagance come in the middle of volume one, beginning with Magawisca's rescue of Everell Fletcher and ending with Hope's release of Nelema. In these chapters Sedgwick successfully writes, in Rachel Blau DuPlessis's phrase, "beyond the ending"—beyond, that is, the endings of death and marriage that characterized the domestic novel.

The tale of Magawisca's heroism recasts the debate central to A Peep at the Pilgrims between masculine and feminine religion. As chapter seven begins, Everell Fletcher and Faith Leslie are the captives of the Pequod chief, Mononotto, who plans to sacrifice Everell to avenge his own son, murdered by attacking English. As Magawisca pleads for Everell's life, she looks at her father with "her mother's eyes and speaketh with her voice" (84), evoking the mother as a principle of mercy in a gesture echoed by Everell, who prays as he is led to execution that "my mother and sisters are permitted to minister to me" (88). Everell's impending execution evokes a tension between the male world of the Old Testament—based on violence, vengeance, and "artificial codes of law" (92)—and the feminine world of the New Testament—based on mercy and love, represented by the evoked spirits of the mothers. Mononotto uses the language of the Old Testament: "'Nay, brothers—the work is mine—he dies by my hand—for my first-born—life for life.'" He further explains that to give up this code would be to become "feminized": "'My people have told me I bore a woman's heart toward the enemy. Ye shall see, I will pour out this English boy's blood to the last drop, and give his flesh and bones to the dogs and wolves'" (92). Afraid that Magawisca will help Everell escape (as she in fact has tried to do during the voyage), Mononotto has her placed under guard in the dwelling of the chief's elderly and ailing sister. The reader is presented, in this episode, with the first of a series of prison-breaks, as Magawisca feels that "if she were to remain pent in that prison-house, her heart would burst" (91). Magawisca tries to spring past her guard, but he "caught her arm in his iron grasp," pushing her back into the hut. It is then that Magawisca devises a plan that enacts one of the prominent themes of the novel: the "art" of the mother-figure allows the younger woman to escape her imprisonment by men. The ailing woman has been brewing a sleeping remedy to ease her pain, some of which Magawisca now slips into the guard's drink, enabling her to escape. While Everell is prepared for execution, Magawisca runs through the forest, scaling rocks and overcoming precipices with all the natural grace of a forest-dweller, and, at the very moment that Mononotto brings his tomahawk down towards Everell's exposed neck, Magawisca leaps from a clearing, interposes her arm, and, as the "lopped, quivering member dropped over the precipice," Everell hugs her "as he would a sister that had redeemed his life with her own" (93) and makes his escape.

The story of Magawisca's rescue of Everell derives from the legend of Pocahontas, who lay her head on John Smith's to protect his life from the wrath of her father. Mary Dearborn discusses the metaphoric implications of Pocahontas's sacrifice, noting that if the act implies, as critics have claimed it does, a "ritual marriage" between the Indian princess and the white man, it does not speak well of the benefits of matrimony for women, who, literally or symbolically, risk their necks for husbands who are free to desert them. Sedgwick further implies that the law of the Old Testament—the law of the Fathers—ultimately punishes, not the sons, but the daughters. For a woman to engage in the masculine plot of heroism—betraying her "femininity" and, therefore, her "inferior" body—the betrayal must be inscribed upon her very body, like Hester's Scarlet "A," in a symbolic act of mutilation. Under the law of an eye for an eye, a mutilation of the boundaries of gender must be repaid with a mutilation of that on which those boundaries are based. When Magawisca attempts to escape the imprisonment of the father, a guard catches her by the arm. Her symbolic act of liberation from that hold is brutally ritualized here by the literal loss of the site of control.

Neither traditional romance nor adventure plots are able to accommodate the degree to which Magawisca is an active agent in her own heroism. For the witnesses, her act follows a tradition of heavenly intervention, as Sedgwick again shows religious rhetoric returning women to divine passivity: "To all it seemed that this deliverance had been achieved by miraculous aid. All—the dullest and coldest—paid involuntary homage to the heroic girl, as if she were a superior being, guided and upheld by supernatural power" (93). Sedgwick further suggests that history, authored for a white male audience, will erase the heroism of women—women of color in particular. A painting commemorating Everell's rescue depicts a man saving the sleeping boy from the attack of wild animals. This version—in which female heroism is "masculinized" and the Indians, so often metaphorized as animals, become literal ones—is, we are told, the one that will endure and become the official story, "'a kind of history for Mr. Everell's children'" (96). The objectivity of male-centered "history" is undermined, however, by the inclusion of a description of the painting and of Magawisca's actions within a letter Hope writes to Everell, in which Hope's sarcasm undercuts the legitimacy of the painting. Hope refers to her letter as her "Bethel chronicles" (111), replacing a masculine history with a feminine version. By presenting the letter verbatim, furthermore, Sedgwick allows Hope—as she allows Magawisca, Mrs. Fletcher, Esther, and even the frivolous Bertha Grafton at other points in the text—her own voice. Sedgwick's art includes those people—women, Indians—the tales of male heroism exclude.

Sedgwick extends the subversion of male myth/history—for the two are shown to be indistinguishable—through Hope's extra-vagant heroism on the trip to the newly forming settlement at Northampton. This episode mirrors Magawisca's extra-vagance, redeeming Magawisca's suffering and rendering it fruitful. First, while Magawisca loses a limb to the unequal system of male power and female captivity, Hope gains "a right godly and suitable appendage to a pilgrim damsel" (98). That "appendage" is Craddock, the most ineffectual male in the novel. But whereas Magawisca loses an "appendage" because of her extravagance, because of Craddock's presence, Hope can travel. When subsequently this appendage is "sacrificed"—Hope moves too quickly for Craddock and soon leaves him behind—it will be not as punishment inflicted on Hope for her heroism, but as a self-willed act to allow freer movement. Furthermore, whereas Magawisca is a victim of the Old Testament, Hope subverts one of its most misogynistic myths—the fall of Adam and Eve. In the descent from Mt. Holyoke, Craddock is bitten by a rattlesnake. Hope offers to suck the venom from the wound, "for I well knew it could not harm me, and I believed it to be life or death to my poor tutor" (102). The serpent no longer has power to harm Eve in this New World paradise; she is now an active hero rather than a passive victim. Rather, it wounds the New World Adam, no longer a powerful name but rather a comic scholar of dead languages and a "poor tutor."

Finally, whereas Magawisca is able to escape her imprisonment because of the art/magic of the disempowered mother, Hope is now able to return the favor, freeing in turn the imprisoned mother. The old Indian woman, Nelema, cures the poisoned tutor with a snake-dance, assuming "the living form of the reptile whose image she bore" as a "sign of honour" (104). But as a consequence Nelema is arrested, condemned as a witch, and imprisoned in Governor Winthrop's basement. It is from this prison that Hope Leslie sets her free. The release of the mother/artist is essential to the formation of female community; if Nelema is killed, Hope Leslie writes Everell, "you will never again hear of Magawisca, I shall never hear more of my sweet sister" (110).

By writing a novel of female extra-vagance, circumventing the narrative options presented to nineteenth-century women authors, Sedgwick frees herself as well as her heroines. Sedgwick's self-empowerment is evident in the "amplification" (119) she offers following Hope's letter, in which she thematizes the generational coming to legibility in the novel. From the mothers, who work in perishables (potions, food, weavings) or write, like Nelema, "hieroglyphics on the invisible air" (104), springs the daughter, Hope, who begins to create an encoded text, her letter, in a semipermanent form. Finally the narrator, writing from the nineteenth century, can explicate openly in a published text.

While Sedgwick successfully imagines a narrative of female heroism, she also seems aware that, because of the different risks she faced, extravagance could never be for a women what it was for a man, as Hope's most dramatic adventure demonstrates. At the midnight meeting of Hope, Faith, and Magawisca, the women are surprised by the Governor's guards, who seize Faith and Magawisca. Hope, however, is carried away in a canoe by Oneco and Mononotto, but soon the latter is struck by lightning. Oneco lands on shore, and while he frantically tries to revive his father, Hope makes her escape. She runs through the forest, until she stumbles upon a troop of drunken pirates who try to rape her. Hope again escapes and, seeing a dinghy moored nearby, leaps aboard and sets out to sea. No sooner does she push off from shore, however, than she is surprised by another pirate, Antonio, who has been sleeping in the boat. Antonio, convinced that Hope is a sacred apparition, agrees to row the "saint" back to Boston (where John Winthrop rebukes Hope for encouraging the pirate's "popish" beliefs.) Hope, arriving in Boston wet and exhausted, faints into Rosa's arms, and is carried to the Winthrop home.

Sedgwick externalizes in these "adventures" the inherent threats to women of romance: entrapment, sexual violation, and an idealization that puts the fetishized woman at the mercy of the purported adorer. All the forces Hope encounters, furthermore, immobilize her, putting her at the mercy of men, who command the means of movement (the canoe, the ship, the dinghy). Hope is exposed to these dangers through the romantic machinations of Sir Philip, who hopes by recapturing Faith to further his suit with Hope. It is fitting that Hope is returned to safety, finally, by Rosa, who puts a final end to Sir Philip's schemes, and represents the one stage of Hope's conveyance controlled by a woman. Hope's adventures—which highlight the physical danger that men threaten against women—contrast sharply with those of male characters such as Natty Bumppo, who in The Last of the Mohicans claims that a "secret love of desperate adventure … had increased with his experience, until hazard and danger had become, in some measure, necessary to the enjoyment of his existence" (270).

Despite the potential dangers to women, however, female extra-vagance in Hope Leslie challenges nineteenth-century definitions of "womanhood" by problematizing the oppositions underlying the increasingly rigid division of masculine and feminine spheres. Above all, the captivity romance deconstructs the "natural" division between "home and the world" (Cott 64) by giving women a plot outside the house, set within the American wilderness. Jane Tompkins argues that the Western arose in the early twentieth century as a reaction to the "feminine culture" of the nineteenth century. Tompkins contends that the Western "answers the domestic novel," becoming "the antithesis of the cult of domesticity that dominated American Victorian culture" ("West" 371). The captivity romance, I am arguing, is another response to the "cult of domesticity," and in some ways resembles the Western. Like the Western, the captivity romance challenges orthodox Christianity and privileges the frontier as an alternative to home and civilization. But while the Western rejects women as the natural representatives of religion and the home, the captivity romance rejects religion and the home as tools men use to deprive women of their independence. While the Western sees home and frontier as inherently antagonistic, the captivity romance creates a female hero who embodies the best of both worlds. The captivity romancers refute the notion that domesticity must be entirely repudiated before a heroine can live an adventurous life in the wilderness.

Dissatisfaction with "home"—as an ideological nexus if not as a lived reality—is perhaps best represented in the captivity romance through the trope of imprisonment, which, as my analysis of Hope Leslie should demonstrate, was stressed—even overstressed—as women's experience in America. Sandra Gilbert writes that "women writers have frequently responded to sociocultural constraints by creating symbolic narratives that express their common feelings of constriction, exclusion, dispossession" (35). Through the trope of "captivity," these romances create a uniquely American version of the madwoman in the attic. But novels such as Reuben and Rachel and Hope Leslie create neither madwomen nor dutiful, devout housewives, but adventurous and daring heroines. In offering female characters a story set in the wilderness rather than in the parlor or in the kitchen, and by representing women who are tough and shrewd enough to perform in both spheres, the captivity romances challenge the "natural" division between home and the outside world—between inside and outside, heart and head, public and private, feminine and masculine—upon which nineteenth-century separate sphere ideologies were based. In doing so, they also produce America's most striking literary expression of female extra-vagance, of women granting each other permission to enter the world.


  1. For the most extensive discussions of the American Adam, see Leslie A. Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel (New York: Dell, 1960); R. W. B. Lewis, The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985); and Richard Poirier, A World Elsewhere (New York: Oxford, 1966).
  2. By "captivity romance" I mean to indicate historical romances, authored by women between 1793 and 1827, that dramatize the experiences of women taken captive by Indians: Susanna Rowson's Reuben and Rachel (1799); Harriet Cheney's A Peep at the Pilgrims (1824); and Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie (1827). Although they share many strategies and concerns, the fictionalization of the captivity narrative distinguishes these novels from other frontier romances written by women, such as Lydia Maria Child's Hobomok (1824) and Eliza Laneford Cushing's Saratoga (1824).
  3. For analyses of Sedgwick's divergence from—and subversion of—Cooper, see Foster, Person, and Zagarell.
  4. Sandra Zagarell describes the subversive potential of women's communities in the context of Hope Leslie. Calling Sedgwick's vision of women's cooperation "communitarianism," Zagarell notes, "While historical romance usually concerns itself with individual liberty," the sisterhood of Hope Leslie "opposes a communitarian ethic to the rigid legalism that for Sedgwick undergirds all authoritarian male rule" (238).
  5. In Foucault's analysis of how a society "supervises, trains and corrects madmen, children at home and at school, the colonized,… those who are stuck at a machine and supervised for the rest of their lives" (29), he neglects the exercises of restraint and confinement against women. Given the obvious connection between the control of women's production and of their bodies (through abortion laws, welfare regulation, and salary and benefit disparities, for instance), gender seems a particularly potent example of the "modalities of knowledge" (28) Foucault writes of.
  6. Nina Baym writes that male critics of American literature have established that "the essential quality of America comes to reside in the unsettled wilderness and the opportunities that such a wilderness offers to the individual as the medium on which he may inscribe, unhindered, his own destiny and his own nature" (71). Baym concludes that such theories exclude women authors, since mobility, upon which wilderness mythologies are based, is a "male prerogative" (72).
  7. For a full discussion of the conventions of the Richardsonian abandonment plot and of its influence on early American literature, see Herbert Ross Brown, The Sentimental Novel in America, 1789-1860 (Durham: Duke UP, 1940). See also Cathy Davidson, Revolution and the Word: the Rise of the Novel in America (New York: Oxford UP, 1986). Davidson reads the sentimental abandoment plot as a challenge to the limited options offered women in early America. While I am entirely convinced by Davidson's reading, I would argue that Sedgwick attempts to leave behind that relatively enabling plot in favor of a narrative that offers its heroine options other than marriage or seduction.
  8. On Martha Fletcher's ethnocentrism, see Mary Kelley's Introduction to Hope Leslie, p. xxx. See also Suzanne Gossett and Barbara Ann Bardes for a discussion of Martha Fletcher's "obedient passivity," and the subsequent punishment inflicted upon her by Sedgwick.
  9. Woolf writes that the Angel "was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life." In order to avoid becoming such a martyred woman herself, Woolf concludes, "I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her … I acted in self-defense. Had I not killed her she would have killed me" (59).
  10. In killing off Martha Fletcher as a way of circumventing traditional domesticity, Sedgwick follows the lead of previous captivity romances, most of which feature heroines who either have no mothers at all—Jessy Oliver in Reuben and Rachel and Miriam Grey of Harriet Cheney's A Peep at the Pilgrims are cases in point—or have at best ambivalent feelings towards a mother who soon dies, as in Lydia Maria Child's Hobomok and Eliza Cushing's Saratoga. By removing mothers from these novels, the authors free their heroines from a limited model of womanhood, for as Cathy Davidson writes, "A motherless daughter is unguided, uneducated, unprotected, but also unencumbered" (120). The only mothers who empower their daughters subvert—rather than embody—traditional definitions of womanhood. When Isabel Arundel is taken captive in Rowson's Reuben and Rachel, for example, she prepares her daughter Columbia for escape by telling her:

    "We are women, it is true, and ought never to forget the delicacy of our sex; but real delicacy consists in purity of thought, and chastity of words and actions; not in shuddering at an accidental blast of wind, or increasing the unavoidable evils of life by affected weakness and timidity."

    (I: 189)

    Ironically, "delicacy" comes to mean hardiness, assurance, bravery—exactly the opposite of its traditional definition. Rowson does not choose to kill off Isabel Arundel.

  11. Sedgwick tacitly acknowledges in her autobiography that she, like Hope Leslie, was released from strangling conventions of femininity by her mother's death. Left with "no regular instruction" (43), Sedgwick concludes that her "life in Stockbridge was a most happy one. I enjoyed unrestrained the pleasures of a rural childhood" (44). Her manner, Sedgwick notes, was "not conventional" (75). In place of a mother, Sedgwick "clung … with instinctive love and faith" (42) to a family servant, a freed slave named Mumbet, who "though perfect in service, was never servile" (41). Sedgwick's childhood was, in short, much like Hope Leslie's. Freed from the model of an overburdened yet silently suffering mother, Catharine and Hope are both released into the unconventional lives promised by an unsettled landscape and endorsed by a strong, beloved woman of color. Not surprisingly, Sedgwick later recalls her affection for her home in Stockbridge as "too much like that of the savage" (109)—identifying herself with the Indians in her love of the land and the freedom it allows her to enjoy.
  12. Sedgwick's life provided her with ample evidence of the complicit relationship between orthodox religion and domestic subservience. In The Life and Letters of Catharine M. Sedgwick, she describes the beliefs that led her to leave the church in 1821. Sedgwick found Calvinism "unscriptural and very unprofitable, and, I think, very demoralizing" (119). "I thought myself bound," she wrote to her sister Frances, "not to lend [my] sanction to what seems to me a gross violation of the religion of the Redeemer, and an insult to a large body of Christians entitled to respect and affection" (119). Particularly "demoralized" by orthodox Calvinism were the women of Sedgwick's family, especially her eldest sister, Eliza, who "suffered from the horrors of Calvinism. She was so true, so practical, that she could not evade its realities; she believed its monstrous doctrines, and they made her gloomy" (68). Worse than the gloom instilled by its doctrines were the "modesty," "self-diffidence," and "humility" of her sisters and mother, "so authorized and enforced by their religion that to them … [self-sacrifice] took the potent form of a duty" (33). Her religious beliefs, Sedgwick implies, left Eliza "occupied with household duties, first in her father's house, and then in her own; first nursing her mother, and supplying a mother's place to the children, and in her married life having twelve children of her own to care for" (70). Shortly after her departure from the orthodox church, Sedgwick joined her "enlightened, rational, and liberal" brothers (117) in the more generous Unitarian Church—"that religion which alone can give us grace in this world and life in the next" (98)—and was soon followed in her conversion by Eliza, who "escaped from the thraldom of orthodox despotism" (144). It is not surprising, given the "despotic" character assigned Calvinism in Hope Leslie, that Sedgwick, describing her sister's flight from orthodoxy, uses the very language she uses to narrate Hope and Magawisca's release from the lord-brethren's prisons. Sedgwick reported to Mrs. Frank Channing (sister-in-law to William Ellery Channing) that Eliza "rejoices in her freedom. But I beg your pardon, my dear friend; you do not know my sister, and you live beyond the sound of our gloomy polemics, so that you can not even imagine what liberty to such a captive is!" (144).
  13. For an excellent discussion of interracial relationships in Hope Leslie see Leland Person. To Person's analysis I would add only that for Sedgwick interracial "sister-hood" seems more important than interracial marriage; the relationship between Hope and Magawisca is much more developed than that between Faith and Oneco, although, as Person notes, the latter relationship is characterized as more loving and respectful than any marriage between whites.
  14. William Dudley and Oberea in Rowson's Reuben and Rachel have a loving marriage, but William is killed because he cannot surrender his English background. In Lydia Child's Hobomok, Mary respects her Indian husband, but never truly loves him. Child ends the novel by returning Hobomok to the forest when Mary's true love, an Englishmen who has been reported killed at sea, returns to claim Mary's hand.

Works Cited

Bardes, Barbara Ann, and Suzanne Gossett. "Women and Political Power in the Republic: Two Early American Novels." LEGACY 2. 2 (1985): 13-30.

Baym, Nina. "Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors." The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and Theory. Ed. Elaine Showalter. New York: Pantheon, 1985: 63-80.

Cheney, Harriet. A Peep at the Pilgrims. Boston: Phillips, Samson, 1824.

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757. 1826. New York: Signet, 1962.

Cott, Nancy F. The Bonds of Womanhood: "Women's Sphere" in New England, 1780-1835. New Haven: Yale UP, 1977.

Davidson, Cathy N. "Mothers and Daughters in the Fiction of the New Republic." The Lost Tradition: Mothers and Daughters in Literature. Eds. Cathy N. Davidson and E. M. Broner. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980: 115-27.

Dearborn, Mary. Pocahontas's Daughters: Gender and Ethnicity in American Culture. New York: Oxford UP, 1986.

DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. Writing Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth Century Women. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985.

Foster, Edward Halsey. Catharine Maria Sedgwick. New York: Twayne, 1974.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prision. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1979.

Gilbert, Sandra M. "What Do Feminist Critics Want? A Postcard from the Volcano." The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and Theory. Ed. Elaine Showalter. New York: Pantheon, 1985: 29-45.

——, and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.

Morris, Mary. "Hers." New York Times 30 Apr. 1987: C2.

Person, Leland, Jr. "The American Eve: Miscegenation and a Feminist Frontier Fiction." American Quarterly 37 (1985): 668-85.

Rowson, Susanna Haswell. Reuben and Rachel; or, Tales of Old Times. 2 vols. London: Minerva, 1799.

Sedgwick, Catharine Maria. Hope Leslie; or, Early Times in the Massachusetts. 1827. Ed. and Intro. Mary Kelley. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1987.

——. The Life and Letters of Catharine M. Sedgwick. Ed. Mary E. Dewey. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1872.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden; or Life in the Woods. 1854. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.

Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860. New York: Oxford UP, 1985.

——. "West of Everything." South Atlantic Quarterly 86 (1987): 357-77.

Welter, Barbara. "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860." American Quarterly 18 (1966): 151-74.

Woolf, Virginia. "Professions for Women." Women and Writing. Ed. and Intro. Michele Barrett. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979: 57-63.

Zagarell, Sandra. "Expanding 'America': Lydia Sigourney's Sketch of Connecticut, Catharine Sedgwick's Hope Leslie." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 6 (1987): 225-45.


SOURCE: Richardson Gee, Karen. "Women, Wilderness, and Liberty in Sedgwick's Hope Leslie." Studies in the Humanities 19, no. 2 (December 1992): 161-70.

In the following essay, Richardson Gee asserts that Hope Leslie and Magawisca in Hope Leslie arefreefromtheir societies' conventions and have nontraditional ways of viewing themselves and nature.

In her greatest novel, Hope Leslie: Or, Early Times in the Massachusetts, Catharine Maria Sedgwick implies that the equality of women and Native Americans and the continued wildness of nature are qualities that Americans should value. They are an extension of Puritan defiance of artificial power structures such as the crown and the church. Two characters particularly exemplify and support freedom and wilderness: Magawisca, a Native American woman, and Hope Leslie, a white woman. Both women are free from their societies' conventions if not from their societies' tensions; through freedom of conscience, they have developed a non-traditional way of seeing themselves and their world. They see one another as individuals, not merely as representatives of different races;1 they see themselves as free people of conscience—not passive, impotent women; and they see nature as the body of God, not something to be molded and used by human beings.

Sedgwick supports liberty and naturalness throughout the novel, as Michael Davitt Bell states in "History and Romance Convention in Catharine Sedgwick's Hope Leslie. " He writes that "Miss Sedgwick is celebrating the historical movement from artificial to natural or, as romantic historians liked to express it, from 'tyranny' to 'liberty'…it is possible for the forces of liberty to defeat the forces of tyranny" (220). Catharine Maria Sedgwick begins her attack on Puritan society by showing the noble beginnings of the Puritan movement. She tells the story of Mr. Fletcher, Hope's guardian, who personally betrays the patriarchal structures of his own British society by becoming a Puritan against the wishes of his uncle—the head of the Fletcher family. Mr. Fletcher continues this betrayal by settling in the new world, and then by leaving the town of Boston, which is controlled by a new hierarchy of Puritan fathers, and he brings up his children to have independent consciences.

Mr. Fletcher flees the town of Boston because it is a Puritan re-creation of the world from which he escaped. He sees abuses of power and notices that the players have changed but that the game remains the same. The first example of an abuse of power occurred in Mr. Fletcher's early life in England. He and his cousin, Alice Fletcher, who would later become Hope Leslie's mother, were in love. However, her father did not approve of Mr. Fletcher's religion, so he refused to allow Alice to marry her cousin. Alice's father says to Mr. Fletcher, "'I forewarn you, no daughter or guinea of mine shall ever go to one who is infected with [Puritanism]'" (1: 8); one cannot doubt that he sees his own child as a commodity—as much as is his money. This pattern continues in the Massachusetts Bay Colony as its leaders arrange matches for the young people, such as Everell Fletcher, Mr. Fletcher's son; Hope Leslie; and Esther Downing, the governor's niece. The Puritan male power structure intends to control the lives of its subjects just as clearly as its Anglican and royalist antecedents did. All the while, the male colonists speak the language of liberty.

Throughout the novel Sedgwick critiques the white male rhetoric of freedom of conscience. She points out that the white settlers of America based their new world on defiance and betrayal of patriarchal structures, such as those of the Catholic and Anglican churches and the British government and way of life. However, Sedgwick claims that freedom-loving Puritan men loved only their own freedom and betrayed the principle of freedom. In "Women and Political Power in the Republic: Two Early American Novels," Suzanne Gossett and Barbara Ann Bardes point out that "Sedgwick demonstrates that though the Puritans came to America seeking freedom to practice their religious beliefs, they established a religious polity which punished those members who claimed to act on individual conscience" (20). The Puritans were unwilling to extend freedom to their pawns—women. Native Americans, and the natural world.2 Instead, freedom-loving Puritan men see and use people—particularly if they are women or "savages"—and the natural world to re-create the world they fled.

Mr. Fletcher feels so strongly about the abuses of the Puritans that he leaves Boston to settle in the wilderness. After coming to Massachusetts, he makes the complaint against his Puritan brothers that many of us in the 20th century make—that they came to America to obtain freedom of religion for themselves but would not extend it to others. Sedgwick says he was mortified at seeing power … sometimes perverted to purposes of oppression and personal aggrandizement.…[H]is heart sickened when he

saw those, who had sacrificed whatever man holds dearest to religious freedom, imposing those shackles on others … he determined to retire from the growing community of Boston to [a] frontier settlement.

(2: 16)

Like other romantics, Mr. Fletcher believes that in the wilderness, he can remain outside of civilization, of societal control, and of patriarchal authority. Unfortunately, even Mr. Fletcher is unable to completely extend freedom to those around him; for example, he is content for his own wife to remain passive and submissive to him. Sedgwick tells us of the Fletchers' removal to the wilderness:

Mrs. Fletcher received his decision as all wives of that age of undisputed masculine supremacy (or most of those of our less passive age) would do, with meek submission … passive obedience to the resolve of her husband


Mr. Fletcher praises his wife for her "obedience—; your careful conformity to my wishes; [and] your steady love" (20). Mr. Fletcher is not the only white male character to prize his own personal freedom enough to leave oppressive Boston for the wilderness. Digby, one of Mr. Fletcher's former servants, leaves Boston for an uninhabited island, thereby breaking away from his former status and escaping to the wilderness. On this island, and in wilderness in general, both Hope and Digby find independence from the rules of Boston society. In a discussion of freedom with Hope, Digby concurs with Hope's assertion that "'I like to have my own way,'" and he tells her that "'this having our own way, is what every body likes; it's the privilege we came to this wildernessworldfor;…though the gentles up in town there, with the Governor at their head, hold a pretty tight rein'" (2: 225). For white men and women of independent conscience, in the wilderness they can find freedom from societal constraints. As Michael Davitt Bell points out, this passage shows that "Hope Leslie's 'spirit,' in short, is the spirit of American history. She is liberty; she is progress" (221).

However, even the positive white male characters in this novel, the foremost of whom is Mr. Fletcher, see nature as a tool with which to create a new world in the likeness of the old world. As white men explore America's forests, groves, and plains, they ask themselves what the land can give them or what they can take from it. For instance, as Mr. Fletcher, Mr. Holioke, Hope, and her tutor explore what will become known as Mount Holyoke, the men comment only briefly on the majestic and profound beauty around them; then they speed from that observation and spend the afternoon planning how to use the land.

In a letter to Everell narrating this episode, Hope reports that "'We lingered for an hour or two on the mountain. Mr. Holioke and your father were noting the sites for future villages, already marked out for them by Indian huts'" (1: 100). Even these good men's study of the wilderness includes removing the indigenous population and turning the American wilderness into something like the tame English countryside. Hope does not condemn Mr. Fletcher's and Mr. Holioke's attitudes explicitly, but she does say, and note the masculine pronoun, that "'He must have a torpid imagination, and a cold heart, I think, who does not fancy these vast forests filled with invisible intelligences'" (1: 100).

Hope's eyes and heart are open to the beauty surrounding her. Sedgwick writes three paragraphs detailing Hope's ecstatic response to the wilderness. Hope identifies with the wildness she sees. After all, she is not a civilized heroine. Sedgwick later describes Hope as "rash and lawless … [and] open, fearless, and gay" (1: 121-2). In nearby passages, Sedgwick compares Hope to a mountain stream and to a bird flying free on the wind. Catharine Maria Sedgwick privileges Hope's vision of life and wilderness and leads us to condemn white men for seeing nature as a tool to be used—just as they see women.

Hope is as at home in the forest as is Magawisca, a Native American born and reared there. However, this novel does not state that all women have these feelings about their land. Sedgwick never gives examples of conventional women enjoying the wilderness. Like Sarah Kemble Knight, they may have to travel through it to get somewhere, but they have no sympathy with it. They avoid it or fear it, and they hunger to return to civilization, which they really define as England, with the town of Boston as an adequate substitute. The city, with its fashion, laces, millinery, and baubles which Hope disdains, is the conventional woman's only natural environment.

This kind of woman has not developed a free conscience, nor has she developed into a real American. Such a conventional woman is Hope's Anglican aunt, Bertha Grafton, whom Michael Davitt Bell calls "the most 'artificial' and European of the novel's minor characters" (219). Hope tells Everell that Aunt Grafton calls Hope's exploring the wilderness:

very unladylike, and a thing quite unheard of in England, for a young person, like me, to go out exploring a new country. I urged, that our new country developes faculties that young ladies, in England were unconscious of possessing. She maintained, as usual, that whatever was not practised and known in England, was not worth possessing.

(1: 98)

Similarly, Esther, the pattern maiden of Massachusetts, never goes into the wilderness. If Hope is a mountain rill, Esther is a canal. While Hope's hair is curly and free of regulation, Esther's hair "which was of a sober brown line, [was] parted on her forehead, and confined behind in a braid" (1:135). While Sedgwick never condemns or pokes fun at Esther, as she does at Aunt Grafton, she makes it clear throughout her text that Hope and Magawisca are the true heroines of her novel.3

During Hope's visit to Mt. Holyoke, she comes close to a pantheistic, Native American view of the world when she says "'I love to lend my imagination to poets' dreams, and to fancy nature has her myriads of little spirits'" (1: 99). In this passage, Hope considers the possibility that nature is not just a tool to be wielded but a living, intelligent presence to be revered, even deified. For Hope and Magawisca, the wilderness is not something to use and change, nor is it something to fear: it is a place to find God, whichever of God's names they use.

As Hope visits Mount Holyoke, she feels awe, wonder, and adoration for God because of the magnificence of nature, and she concludes that Native Americans, who live with this beauty everyday, are likely to be profoundly religious. She sees a pile of stones and comments that "It has, I believe, been the custom of people, in all ages, who were instructed only by nature, to worship on high places" and she wonders if her Christian God would find that worship acceptable. Mr. Holioke rebukes her ecumenical spirit, and while she does not come to a conclusion about this question, she does not forget this revelation, the moment when

My senses were enchanted on that high place. I listened to the mighty sound that rose from the forest depths of the abyss, like the roar of the distant ocean, and to the gentler voices of nature, borne on the invisible waves of air—the farewell notes of the few birds that still linger with us—the rustling of the leaves beneath the squirrel's joyous leap.

(1: 101)

Unlike the Christianity of other Puritans, Hope's faith and creed do not come from the Bible or any other text, but from revelation. Mr. Fletcher says that "what is difficult duty to others, hath ever seemed impulse in [Hope]" (1: 153) and Sedgwick's biographer, Edward Foster, claims that "Hope Leslie is a Christian not because the Puritan doctrines have taught her how a Christian should act; rather, she knows instinctively how a Christian should act" (87-8). Her instinctive response to nature is part of her generous Christianity. This religious response to nature helps Hope and Magawisca understand one another.4

They have a great deal in common, personally and circumstantially. Both have experienced great losses, particularly with the deaths of their mothers; both are close to their fathers (or father-figure in Hope's case). They also occupy similar positions in their societies. As women, both Hope and Magawisca are heir to powerless positions in their patriarchal communities. To achieve freedom, they must rebel, struggling against artificial structures to act in the history of their world and in the exploration of the wilderness. In an article discussing women and power in this novel, Suzanne Gossett and Barbara Ann Bardes state that "Both [Hope and Magawisca] make independent decisions and each at some point directly challenges the rules or laws of her own culture" (22).

Both women also respond similarly to nature. Unlike the conventional women and the men in the novel,5 Hope and Magawisca see nature through instinctive religion and imagination. Susan K. Harris, in 19th-Century American Women's Novels: Interpretative Strategies, claims that Sedgwick proposes a similar connection in Sedgwick's A New England Tale. Harris states that this novel's Rebecca is also "projected as closely in touch with nature and nature's God.… Rebecca's love of nature is a sign that she is one of those virtuous women … [her words] exhibit Rebecca's affinity for nature and amplify the narrator's affirmation of her piety" (55).

Sedgwick uses the same kind of association for Hope and Magawisca that she uses for Rebecca. However, the emphasis on nature in this novel is more basic than it is in A New England Tale. In passages discussing Hope and nature, Sedgwick uses conventional pronouns for both nature—she—and people—he. By using the feminine pronoun for nature, Sedgwick creates an equation between nature and women, especially because in this novel men attempt to control both. In her most positive description of wilderness, Sedgwick speaks in an authorial voice, portraying feminine wilderness inhabited by Native American men:

not a trace of man's art was seen save the little bark canoe that glided over [the rivers] or lay idly moored along the shore. The savage was rather the vassal, than the master of nature; obeying her laws, but never usurping her dominion. He only used the land she prepared, and cast in his corn but where she seemed to invite him by mellowing and upheaving the rich mould. He did not presume to hew down her trees, the proud crest of her uplands, and convert them into "russet lawns and fallows grey." The axman's stroke, that music to the settler's ear, never then violated the peace of nature, or made discord in her music.

(1: 83).

In this description of wilderness, Native American men become the lovers of the land, not the rapists that the settlers are. While Native American men wait for invitations to inseminate nature, white men "presume" to "violate" its prerogatives. Because this passage was written by a woman, who by definition was a rapable object—just as the land was—the argument about wilderness versus settlement reaches an intensity that is not usually found in discussions of cutting down tress.

When Sedgwick describes the attitudes of particular Native American men, they are less perfect in their understanding of the land and, similarly, in their treatment of women, than the previous idealistic passage suggests. Sedgwick does not condemn white men alone for controlling nature and women. Although she says that Native American men are generally less destructive to nature than are white men, they still see themselves as separate from nature and they still try to control women.

In the scenes Sedgwick sets in Magawisca's village, she shows Native American men controlling and excluding women and at odds with the feminine wilderness. Mononotto, her father and a Pequod chief, has lost his people, wife, and son. After these losses he can no longer find comfort in the feminine wilderness. As he and Magawisca travel through the forest, he points to a "leafless tree … a fit emblem of the chieftain of a ruined tribe." Magawisca tells him that he is listening to the wrong voice in the wilderness:

listen not to the sad strain; it is but the spirit of the tree mourning over its decay; rather turn thine ear to the glad song of the bright stream, image of the good. She nourishes the aged trees, and cherishes the tender flowrets, and her song is ever of happiness, till she reaches the great sea—image of our eternity.

(1: 84)

In Sedgwick's novel, Mononotto represents the Native American man who is traditionally masculine: he will not hear nature's feminine voice, just as he rejects the voices of women.

Mononotto responds to the destruction of his people and his family by taking violent action against the settlers not only out of grief, anger, or what we might call survivor's guilt, but also in order to prove that he has regained his masculinity. As he prepares to sacrifice Everell, he addresses his tribesmen: "Brothers—My people have told me I bore a woman's heart towards the enemy. Ye shall see. I will pour out this English boy's blood to the last drop and give his flesh and bones to the dogs and wolves" (1:92). Throughout the sacrifice scene, Sedgwick underlines the masculinity of the ritual and Magawisca's banishment from any participation in her tribe's government. One of many examples comes when Magawisca asks her father to spare Everell. Mononotto tells her, "No—though thou lookest on me with thy [dead] mother's eye, and speakest with her voice" (1: 84). He will never again submit to his feminine self, nor will he listen to a woman.

Hope and Magawisca face many of the same problems. Neither lives in a society in which women's opinions are valued. Hope, after all, lives in a community in which the full weight of Miltonic misogyny falls on her head. She has been taught that man is the intermediate between woman and God and that God gave the natural world to man to name and use. Hope refuses to accept her society's creed, just as Magawisca continues to challenge her tribe's misogyny. Each woman continues to act with freedom of conscience, and each considers an ecumenical approach to religion. In the middle of the second volume of the novel, Hope and Magawisca meet in Boston near the graves of their mothers; they discuss their different creeds and mutual faith. Magawisca explains that "'to me the Great Spirit is visible in the life-creating sun. I perceive Him in the gentle light of the moon that steals in through the forest boughs. I feel Him here,' she continued, pressing her hand on her breast, while her face glowed with the enthusiasm of devotion. 'I feel Him in these ever-living, ever-wakeful thoughts'" (2: 189).

Neither woman sees nature as an instrument to be used. Each sees it as a temple of God. Magawisca tells Hope and Everell, as she prepares to leave them forever, that "'the Great Spirit, and his ministers, are every where present and visible to the eye of the soul that loves him; nature is but his interpreter; her forms are but bodies for his spirit'" (2: 332). Interestingly enough, Sedgwick reveals her own lack of imagination in these passages on religion and nature. She does not allow Magawisca or Hope to make the leap that many modern feminists make, that God is not male—but female or without gender. Despite Magawisca's reference to "the Great Spirit," both she and Hope continue to present God as the capitalized Him of the King James Bible.

For Sedgwick, as for Hope, Everell, and modern readers, Magawisca's leaving is mournful. Mary Kelley and other critics point out that Sedgwick wrote this novel at a time when the wilderness was disappearing with its Native American inhabitants. In a series of speeches, Magawisca connects the destruction of the wilderness with the extermination and disenfranchisement of her race. For example, at her trial, she tells her judges that "'The white man cometh—the Indian vanisheth … it matters not whether we fall by the tempest that lays the forest low, or are cut down alone, by the stroke of the axe'" (2: 292). While good white characters, such as Everell and Hope, cannot see the impossibility of friendship between white settlers and Native Americans, Magawisca and Sedgwick are wiser. They recognize that Native Americans cannot peacefully coexist with whites anymore than the land can remain wild under the axe.

The only hope for racial relations is the tolerant ecumenical spirit Hope struggles to learn—that blind belief in one's own vision of God and lack of respect for other visions of God are wrong. Nature, Sedgwick suggests, can teach this lesson to spirits free enough to listen. To be that free, one must not be a member of an artificial and oppressive patriarchal structure. One must be able to respond to nature with an eager ear, an open eye, and a waiting heart. If we are to learn the lessons nature teaches, we must add another caveat—that wilderness must exist to teach.


  1. Hope fails to do so at one point in the novel, when she is confronted with her sister's marriage to Oneco, Magawisca's brother. In the words of the novel, "'God forbid!' exclaimed Hope, shuddering as if a knife had been plunged in her bosom. 'My sister married to an Indian!'" (2: 188). After getting to know Faith slightly, Hope learns to accept her sister's marriage and her return to her husband.
  2. Sedgwick does not address the fact that black slaves were also inhabitants of this new world.
  3. I do not agree with Bell's assertion that Magawisca represents untrustworthy wilderness and that Hope symbolizes trustworthy nature. I, and many readers, both modern and nineteenth-century, find Magawisca more heroic and admirable than Hope is—and equally trustworthy. Bell probably does not recognize Magawisca's greatness because he is analyzing this novel in terms of the conventional marriage plot, which places Hope in the role of "heroine." While he is correct that such a plot occurs, I think that he places too much emphasis on it and ignores other important patterns in the novel.
  4. Compare Hope's instinctive religion to the artificial Christianity of the Puritans: Sedgwick says that in their view, "[w]hatever gratified the natural desires of the heart was questionable, and almost every thing that was difficult or painful, assumed the form of duty" (I: 156).
  5. I should say that we do not see Everell's response to the wilderness. The first episode in which he spends a substantial amount of time in the wilderness occurs when he is on a forced march to Mononotto's camp. His mother and siblings have been killed before his eyes and he suspects rightly that the same fate awaits him when he reaches his destination. Understandably, he does not notice anything about the wilderness at that time. When he visits the island on which Digby lives, we do not see his response to the wilderness. At that point all of the characters are preoccupied by the marriage plot. However, as Bell rightly points out, Sedgwick suggests that Everell has the right attitude toward nature because he chooses the natural Hope instead of the artificial Esther (219).

Works Cited

Bell, Michael Davitt. "History and Romance Convention in Catharine Sedgwick's Hope Leslie." American Quarterly 22 (1970): 213-21.

Foster, Edward Halsey. Catharine Maria Sedgwick. Twayne's United States Authors Series TUSAS 233. (NY: Twayne, 1974): 87-88.

Gossett, Suzanne and Barbara Ann Bardes. "Women and Political Power in the Republic: Two Early American Novels." Legacy 2.2 (Fall 1985): 13-30.

Harris, Susan K. 19th-Century American Women's Novels: Interpretative Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.

Kelley, Mary. "Introduction." Hope Leslie: Or, Early Times in the Massachusetts. By Catharine Maria Sedgwick. Ed. Mary Kelley. American Women Writers Series. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1990.

Sedgwick, Catharine Maria. Hope Leslie: Or, Early Times in the Massachusetts. Ed. Mary Kelley. American Women Writers Series. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1990.


SOURCE: Ross, Cheri Louise. "(Re)writing the Frontier Romance: Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie." College Language Association Journal 39, no. 3 (March 1996): 320-340.

In the following essay, Ross contends that Hope Leslie transforms the frontier romance genre by giving it a feminist, non-racist character.

During the nineteenth century, four writers were credited as being "the great founders of American literature": Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and William Cullen Bryant.1 Sedgwick's work was extremely popular with the reading public and critically acclaimed by her contemporaries. Nathaniel Hawthorne called her "our most truthful novelist" and Washington Irving remarked on her "classic pen."2 Margaret Fuller reported that Sedgwick is "a fine example of the independent and beneficent existence that intellect and character can give to Woman, no less than Man" and believed that her work had "permanent value."3 As Edward Halsey Foster notes in his study of Sedgwick, "The North American Review consistently praised her novels, and … this was the most scholarly and learned journal in the country."4 After the publication of her fourth novel, The Linwoods (1835), the members of Boston's Athenaeum ranked her with Irving, Bryant, and Cooper in a survey of American literary achievements.5 Her work, like that of the male founders of American literature, was "well-received on both sides of the Atlantic."6

Sedgwick, the sole woman in the group, is also the only writer among the founders whose name and works had disappeared from the American canon long before the mid-twentieth century. Denigrated by powerful critics such as Van Wyck Brooks, who wrote in 1936, "No one could have supposed that her work would live," Sedgwick's novels lost the place in American letters which had once seemed assured.7 Michael Davitt Bell continues the pattern of marginalization in his discussion of her third novel, Hope Leslie (1827). He finds the plot of this novel "incredibly complicated" and on several occasions refers to "the confusion of the plot."8 He seems to share that confusion, faulting Sedgwick on these grounds, yet at the same time capably summarizing the plot in four paragraphs. He also flatly states that "it is no master piece" and calls it "an extraordinarily conventional book."9 In the last decade, however, feminist scholars such as Mary Kelley and Nina Baym have challenged the judgment of critics who have marginalized Sedgwick's work, and so it is once again beginning to receive the critical attention and acclaim it deserves.

Particularly deserving of critical attention is Sedgwick's frontier romance, Hope Leslie, in which she transforms the conventions of the genre in order to propound a feminist, nonracist view. Conflating the issues concerning Native Americans, the woman question, and the historical record, Sedgwick challenges the assumptions of the patriarchy of her time: White, androcentric society has dispossessed both Native Americans and women of their inherent rights. Either vilified or ignored by the white male guardians of historical "fact," these groups found a spokesperson in Sedgwick. For once, it seems, the side of the apparently alien Other has been told, and told in such a way that it might be folded into the individual and collective self. Writing less than four decades before the Civil War, Sedgwick also prefigures the later alliance of blacks and women in presenting an alliance of Native Americans and women. The parallels between race and gender are unmistakable; they are also unprecedented in the frontier romance.



Hope Leslie, the white heroine of the work, is a finely drawn character, full of enthusiasm, affection, truth, and yet sparkling with gaiety and wit. Her friend and rival—yes, both friend and rival—Esther Downing, is lovely too, in her way, which, as was to be expected in those times, was rather a precise one, and her loveliness is as distinct from Hope's as possible. Magawisca too is another friend and rival, as we before hinted. Here are three ladies, who seem to love and admire each other as much as they do Everell Fletcher; who, by the way, excellent as he is, hardly deserves such an accumulation of honor. Is this, or is it not, a greater improbability than the character of the Indian heroine? We are afraid to leave the decision of the question to our authoress, who, if the truth must be told, appears to entertain a decided partiality for her own sex. Nor can we blame her for it. We are in no humor, indeed, to find fault with her at all, or for anything. We only hope, that as we have been tardy in noticing the last production of her pen, another will very soon be ready for our inspection. We pray her to go on, in the path in which she must excel, and has excelled, and which she ought consequently to make her peculiar one. We pray her to go on, in the name of her friends, for the public's sake, and for the honor of our youthful literature.

From The North American Review 26 (April 1828): 420.

The frontier romance emerged as a genre in the 1790s and declined in the 1850s.10 It is a particularly American genre, melding the characteristics of the captivity narrative and the major features of the English historical romance, especially as presented by Sir Walter Scott in his Waverley novels. Louise Barnett has identified the main conventions of the frontier romance as follows: (1) a racist-nationalistic philosophy of white-Indian relations; (2) captivity as the central plot episode; and (3) stereotyped Native American characters ("good" and "bad" Indians); (4) a passive, imperiled white heroine who is the object of white and Indian attempts to possess her; and (5) a white hero who rescues the heroine from captivity. Other conventions include a white hero and heroine of aristocratic lineage, who are married at the end of the novel, and a grounding in historical data and use of historical personages. By 1824 these conventions were well established.11

In the present canon of American literature James Fenimore Cooper's preeminence is firmly established among the exemplars of this genre. Any of the five Leatherstocking Tales could be discussed as a representative frontier romance, but for the purposes of this study, I will follow the lead of scholars such as Barnett, who link The Last of the Mohicans (1826) to Hope Leslie and both of these to the captivity narrative.12 In this novel, Cooper utilizes every convention described above. Several captivity episodes occur; at one time or another, all the major white characters are captured by Indians. Stereotyped characters include the lone woodsman, Hawk-eye; the good Indians, Chingachgook and his son Uncas; the bad Indian, Magua; the white hero, Duncan Heyward; the passive, imperiled, sentimental heroine, Alice, and her less passive sister, Cora, but whose mixed blood disqualifies her from consideration as heroine. The racist-nationalistic philosophy is demonstrated by the attitude of the whites who see the extermination of the Indians as inevitable and necessary to the white Westward expansion movement. The pious, noble, and often tearful Alice and Duncan are married at the end; the more self-assertive Cora, along with the bad Indian Magua and the good Indian Uncas, dies before the narrative ends; none leaves heirs.13 The story is set in Northern New York state at the time of the French and Indian Wars in the mid-eighteenth century and includes historical personages such as General Montcalm.

Hope Leslie, set during the so-called King Philip's War (1675-76) in the environs of Boston, uses historical personages, including the Winthrops, John Eliot, Mononotto, and Sir Christopher Gardiner (here named Sir Philip Gardiner), and it ends with the marriage of the white hero and heroine. These lesser conventions of the frontier romance, however, are the only ones that Sedgwick leaves unchanged. In this essay, I will focus on three areas which subsume the major conventions. First, I will analyze Sedgwick's attitude toward Native American issues; then I will discuss her portrayal of male characters; finally, I will examine her portrayal of women characters.

Part I: Native American Issues

In Hope Leslie, Sedgwick presents an alternative history of white-Native American relations during and shortly after King Philip's War.14 She dislikes the racist-nationalistic philosophy of whites toward Native Americans which she found while researching the histories written by Puritan forefathers.15 These male-authored chronicles valorize the behavior of the white expansionist settlers while exhibiting intolerance and bigotry toward Native Americans. In contrast, Sedgwick recognizes the problem inherent in any history: ostensibly objective, histories are, in fact, written from the point of the view of those who hold the power and who assume that their exercise of power is correct. Sedgwick presents her opposing view at the outset. In her "Preface" she declares:

The Indians of North America are, perhaps, the only race … of whom it may be said, that though conquered, they were never enslaved. They could not submit, and live. When made captives, they courted death, and exulted in torture. These traits of character will be viewed by an impartial observer, in a light very different from that in which they were regarded by our ancestors. In our histories, it was perhaps natural that they should be presented as "surly dogs," who preferred to die rather than to live, from no other motive than a stupid or malignant obstinacy. Their own historians or poets, if they had such, would as naturally, and with more justice, have extolled their high-souled courage and patriotism.16

Detailed descriptions of white atrocities mark Sedgwick's alternative history. By allowing Magawisca to narrate the new version of history only after she is firmly established as intelligent, virtuous, and credible, Sedgwick underscores the violence inherent in the displacement and conquest of Native Americans. As Mary Kelley notes:

Written during a decade in which nineteenth-century Americans were demanding still more land from the Cherokees, the Chicksaws, and the Choctaws, Sedgwick's portrayal of earlier conflicts between Puritans and the indigenous population stood in opposition to tenets that sanctioned American expansion and Indian dispossession in both centuries. Hope Leslie resounded with an unmistakable challenge to the morality of a nation.


The start of a new version of history is prompted by the warning token which Nelema, an old Native American woman, leaves behind when she visits Magawisca, who has been forced to work as a servant at Bethel, the Fletchers' homestead. Mrs. Fletcher asks Magawisca to interpret it, but torn between her loyalty to her father and her love for the Fletchers, she says only that it denotes impending danger. The trusting Fletchers do not take the warning seriously because Magawisca gives no specific details. When Everell, the Fletchers' teenage son, questions her later, she paints a graphic and moving picture of the night that the English attacked her village.

Men were away at a council when the English attacked the sleeping women and children, she explains. The invaders showed no mercy, eventually setting the Native Americans' huts on fire with the brand "taken from our hearthstone, where the English had been so often warmed and cherished" (50). Only Mononotto's family was spared. Of course, the other men suspected him of collusion because

[h]e had been the friend of the English; he had counselled peace and alliance with them; he had protected their traders; delivered the captives taken from them, and restored them to their people; now his wife and children alone were living and they called him traitor. From that moment my father was a changed man.


She also tells of the fate of her sixteen-yearold brother who was first captured, then brutally murdered by the English when he refused to guide them to the Indians' stronghold, and asks Everell,

You English tell us … that the book of your law is better than that written in our hearts, for ye say it teaches mercy, compassion, forgiveness—if ye had such a law and believed it, would ye thus have treated a captive boy?


Magawisca convinces him that "this new version of an old story … was putting the chisel into the hands of truth, and giving it to whom it belonged" (53). Everell, of course, has heard the events recounted many times by the whites, but "from Magawisca's lips they took on a new form and hue; she seemed to … embody nature's best gifts, and her feelings to be the inspiration of heaven" (53). Through Magawisca, Everell finally learns of the white provocation which led to Indian attacks. Mononotto has seen his tribe decimated by the ferocious assaults of the Puritan militias defending the expanded settlements and expropriation of land. Mononotto's wife and children have been taken captive and his eldest son decapitated. Originally a friend to the settlers, Mononotto learns to hate them because of these tribal and personal disasters. In consequence, the attack on Bethel is inevitable. Shortly after Magawisca tells her story to Everell, Mononotto and his men do attack Bethel, and although Magawisca begs her father to stop the massacre, she cannot stem the tide of death.

Sedgwick depicts this massacre in as much horrific detail as that of the English massacre of the Indians, thus giving equal treatment to the atrocities perpetrated by both sides. Sandra Zagarell remarks that

[by] situating Indian brutality within Puritan expansionism, Hope Leslie strongly challenges the ways in which several popular narrative modes repressed the fundamental connections between white settlement and conflicts with the Indians. The downplaying of historical connection was conspicuous in the Puritan histories that Sedgwick researched to write Hope Leslie and in the frontier romances popular in the earlier nineteenth century. In both genres, Indians tend to be inherently malevolent, their violence against whites unprovoked.


Clearly, Sedgwick provides a more balanced view of the issue than was commonly found in other works in the frontier romance. Even though "good" and "bad" Indians are portrayed, few are of the Noble Savage or Devilish Heathen stereotype. Even "bad" Indians are provided with psychological motivations which partially mitigate the cruelty of their actions.

Captivity episodes, although central to the plot of Hope Leslie, are not always typical of this genre because not only do Indians hold whites captive, but Puritan authorities hold Indians captive, and a Puritan impersonator attempts to abduct the title character. (Significantly, the exemplars of feminine passivity, Mrs. Winthrop and Esther Downing, are never captured.) In the major captivity episode of the novel, after William Fletcher's family is attacked by Indians and most are killed, two captives are taken: his son, Everell, the nominal hero, and Fletcher's ward, Faith Leslie. Everell escapes death not through his own cunning or bravery but through the intervention of the chief's daughter, Magawisca. In an effort to redirect "history," she pleads with her father to spare Everell's life. Mononotto, however, denies her plea; he plans to kill him to avenge the death of his son Samoset. Magawisca feigns submission, but at the same time, she unsuccessfully tries to help Everell escape. Her father separates the two when they reach an Indian village, and Magawisca correctly interprets this action as one preparatory to the captive's death. Guarded by a Mohawk, she cleverly adds an opiate to his cup, thus enabling her to escape while he is drugged. She reaches the sacrificial rock just in time to interpose her body between the victim and the knife, thus saving Everell's life but losing her right arm in the process.

As for the fate of Faith Leslie, Sedgwick undermines the code against miscegenation that Cooper so thoroughly promoted. Enamoured of Oneco since childhood and married to him during her captivity, Faith Leslie has no desire to return to live among the Puritans. As Annette Kolodny has noted, "Sedgwick offered a white heroine whose romantic attachment to an Indian included a happy accommodation to life in the woods."17 Although Hope desperately wants to be reunited with her sister, Magawisca wisely warns her, "Those arms … could no more retain thy sister, than a spider's web" (188). Magawisca's words prove true when Hope and Faith finally meet. Hope pleads eloquently with her, and when that fails, uses every possible bribe to lure her away from her Indian life, but Faith determinedly refuses. From Faith's perspective, white society offers nothing. As Richard Slotkin has noted,

Sedgwick violates Puritan psychology and aligns herself with the more radical environmentalists in asserting that Mary's [Faith's] proper place is now with her Indian husband and in seeing this acculturation in a positive light, rather than as a sort of degeneracy.18

Sedgwick finds nothing degenerate in Native American culture; instead, she presents it as nourishing to white culture. This presentation represents a radical departure: from the time of Mary Rowlandson on, white settlers considered Native Americans to be subhuman; in consequence, their lifestyle was also denigrated.

"Rescued" at the same time that Magawisca is taken prisoner, Faith is miserable: "All day, and all night … she goes from window to window, like an imprisoned bird fluttering against the bars of its cage; and so wistfully she looks abroad, as if her heart sent forth with the glance of her eye" (265-66). Oneco, too, is heartbroken, thinking of nothing but how to reclaim his "white bird" (326). Disguising himself as a sailor, he gains admittance to the Winthrop household and signals to his wife. Faith may not be as inventive as Hope (more on this later), but she is clever enough to conceal her emotions until the time is propitious for her to approach Oneco and thus vouchsafe their escape. Sedgwick characterizes Faith and Oneco as well-adjusted, loyal spouses who genuinely love each other. Authorial approval of their union permeates the novel. According to Louise Barnett, they make up "the only interracial couple in the frontier romance to achieve a happy ending."19 Thus, taking an unprecedented stand against a long line of authors repelled by the thought of miscegenation, Sedgwick presents a strong and subversive critique of this taboo.20

Through her rewriting of the Puritan histories, Sedgwick succeeds in presenting a more balanced account of the white-Native American conflicts in the seventeenth century and, by extension, argues against further Native American displacement in the nineteenth century. She also promotes racial tolerance through her approbation of Native American culture and the marriage of Faith and Oneco.

Part II: Portrayal of Male Characters

Everell, the central male character, possesses heroic attitudes, but he is never allowed to become a heroic figure. In each of three major episodes, he proves to be ineffectual. During his Indian captivity, he is unable to escape even with the covert guidance of Magawisca. He resigns himself to death, and only Magawisca's last-second intervention saves him. When she is incarcerated, he attempts to remove the bars from her prison window to allow her to escape, but he is frightened away by the sound of approaching voices before he can accomplish the task. When Hope is captured—first by Oneco and Mononotto and then when Chaddock's men attempt to capture her—Everell plays no part in her escape, therefore disqualifying himself from the role of conventional hero.

Even in his personal relationships, Everell cannot seem to take charge of his life. He becomes engaged to marry Esther through a concatenation of events over which he seems unable to exert any control. In love with Hope but bound to Esther against his will, he resigns himself to his fate. Only because Esther finally breaks their engagement upon realizing that he does not love her, is he free to marry the woman of his, not his elders', choice. She does not, however, absolve him from responsibility. In a letter addressed to Everell and Hope, she asks, "Would it not have been better, as well as kinder, to have said, 'Esther, I do not love thee,' than to have permitted me to follow my silly imaginings, and thereby have sacrificed my happiness for this world—and thine—and Hope Leslie's?" (346).

Although the novel does end with marriage for the white hero and heroine, it is significant that Everell chooses the independent Hope Leslie over the passive Esther. The question remains, however, why Hope accepts Everell. Several possible reasons may explain her choice. First, she and Everell spent their formative years together in the Fletcher household, and childhood affection may lay the foundation for stronger feelings. Second, perhaps Everell's sojourn in England has made him more tolerant than other less flexible young men of her acquaintance and has, consequently, added to his original appeal. Neither Hope nor Everell holds typical Puritan views; but the two of them share many attitudes. Everell simply cannot translate his ideas into viable plans as Hope does. He recognizes Hope's true abilities, however, and treats her as his equal—and better. Hope recognizes Everell's good qualities; with her independent personality, she does not need a strong-willed man who will attempt to dominate her.

Interestingly for a frontier romance, Hope Leslie portrays the Puritan impersonator, Sir Philip Gardiner, rather than a Native American, as villain. Clearly, Gardiner is treated as a reprehensible character. Having no morals and no scruples, he calculates his every action to further his own nefarious plans. First he tries to win Hope's favor, but when she fails to succumb to his charms, he plans to take her captive and then coerce her into becoming his mistress. As Leland Person has stated,

Hope Leslie has far more to fear from the white, civilized male than her sister has to fear from her Indian abductor.…The novel suggests very clearly that the threat of assault or forced marriage inheres in cultural attitudes of possession and authority—in a view of women as objects.… Sedgwick seems to have realized that the most serious threat to frontier women did not necessarily proceed from Indians.21

Gardiner, the epitome of the "white, civilized male," instigates the only threats to Hope's chastity. It is his machinations which cause Hope to be at risk among Chaddock's men.

Gardiner also possesses a history of using and abusing women; Hope is not his first victim. Prior to his arrival in Boston, he had seduced Rosa, his present mistress, whom he forces to impersonate a male page. He has ruined her life, for although he cares nothing about her, she has fallen in love with him. Aware of her feelings, Gardiner abuses and ignores her. Tired of her and finding her an ever-increasing threat to his real anti-Puritan identity, he wants only to dispose of her. With Rosa in mind, he visits Magawisca in jail and offers her freedom on the condition that she take Rosa with her into the wilderness. He suggests that Magawisca give her to Oneco to take the place of his captive wife. If Oneco does not agree to this plan, perhaps she can be guided to a French Canadian convent. Appalled, Magawisca refuses such a condition for her freedom although she desperately wants to be free: "And dost thou think … that I would make my heart as black as thine, to save my life?" (257). Here is Sedgwick's strongest reminder that white males can be much more dangerous to women than Native Americans are.

Part III: Portrayal of Women

The alternative history which Sedgwick writes also presents a critique of Puritan attitudes toward women. Unless, like Anne Hutchinson, they had committed transgressions, women's voices were silenced in these male-authored chronicles. In Hope Leslie women's voices are heard, and it is clear which voices Sedgwick favors. For instance, Governor Winthrop's wife is characterized contemptuously as "a horse easy on the bit" and as a woman whose submission to her husband's will is total (145). With the creation of the title character and her Native American counterpart, Sedgwick valorizes a different heroine. Even some of the male critics of the day found her strong women characters appealing. A writer for the North American Review asserted that Hope Leslie is "a finely drawn character, full of enthusiasm, affection, truth, and yet sparkling with gaiety and wit" and called Magawisca "a glorious creature."22 A writer for the Western Monthly Review, however, faulted Sedgwick for her portrayal of Magawisca, stating, "We should have looked in any place for such a character rather than in an Indian wigwam."23 It is such an attitude, among others, that Sedgwick's novel addresses. Hope and Magawisca share many traits. They are, in effect, spiritual sisters who bridge the supposed color barrier. Sedgwick presents them as brave, intelligent, strong-willed, independent women who follow the dictates of their consciences. Both Hope and Magawisca attempt to redress the wrongs of their separate but equally male-dominated societies. Both defy patriarchal authority and risk their lives to rescue captives of the other race.

Hope's first real demonstration of these characteristics comes when her tutor, the good-hearted but bumbling Master Cradock, suffers a rattlesnake bite while accompanying Hope on an outing. She wants to suck the venom from the wound, but Digby, her supervisor within the patriarchal society, deems the proposed action too dangerous and prevents her. Hope ignores his status and acts, turning to nonwhite healing arts. She convinces Mr. Fletcher to let Nelema, who can provide an antidote, treat Cradock. Nelema's ministrations succeed.

Sedgwick, however, does not ignore possible negative repercussions; she honestly depicts the impact of the patriarchy exercising its power. Nelema is accused of practicing witchcraft and is held as a prisoner in Judge Pynchon's cellar. Hope courageously testifies on her behalf, but the town patriarchs find her presumptuous and dismiss her attempt to gain mercy for Nelema: "Thou art forward, maiden … in giving thy opinion; but thou must know, that we regard it but as the whistle of a bird; withdraw, and leave judgment to thy elders" (109). Refusing to "leave judgment" to those whom she believes to be wrong, Hope steals the key to the cellar when Nelema is condemned to death, frees her, and with the connivance of Digby (significantly now her ally), effects Nelema's escape from the town. The narrator commends Hope's action:

This was a bold, dangerous, and unlawful interposition, but Hope Leslie took counsel only from her own heart, and that told her that the rights of innocence were paramount to all other rights, and as to danger to herself, she did not weigh it, she did not think of it.


Hope's intervention is indeed unlawful and precipitates a direct power struggle. The male authorities do not publicly censure her, but Judge Pynchon suspects her of aiding and abetting in the "disappearance" of Nelema. Consequently, the Puritan fathers decree that Hope must reside with Governor Winthrop's family in Boston to learn proper maidenly behavior. Furious, the seventeen-year-old Hope refuses to leave her home with the Fletcher family, yet she has no choice but to go. Judge Pynchon "felt the necessity of taking instant and efficient measures to subdue to becoming deference and obedience, the rash and lawless girl, who had dared to interpose between justice and its victim" (121).

The other Puritan leaders agree that Hope is too independent and strong-willed. Governor Winthrop remarks that "she hath not … that passiveness, that next to godliness,…awoman's best virtue" (153). His wife agrees that Hope is hardly a role model for Puritan maidenhood:

Our heroine's independent temper, and careless gaiety of heart, had more than once offended against the strict notions of Madam Winthrop, who was of the opinion that the deferential manners of youth, which were the fashion of the age, had their foundation in immutable principles.


Mrs. Winthrop has bought the whole bill of goods; conditioned to accepting male authority, she confuses moral principle with societal expectations.

Hope's friend Esther Downing, the Winthrops' niece, also chastises her for unseemly behavior:

Hope Leslie … you do allow yourself too much liberty of thought and word: you certainly know that we owe implicit deference to our elders and superiors;—we ought to be guided by their advice, and governed by their authority.


Hope, however, is adamant, rejoining, "I do not entirely agree with you about advice and authority.… I would not be a machine to be moved at the pleasure of anybody a little older than myself" (180).

Ironically, Hope's removal to Boston does not change her personality; predictably, it only affords more opportunities for her to come into conflict with the patriarchal authorities. Soon after her arrival in Boston, she goes off alone late at night to meet with Magawisca in order to hear tidings of her sister Faith, who had been captured by the Pequods seven years ago.

Hope defies the conventions of her society not only by attending this clandestine meeting but also by refusing to explain her absence to Governor Winthrop and the rest of his household upon her return. Because of her pledge of secrecy, she cannot tell the truth; because of her honest and forthright nature, she cannot manufacture a lie. The narrator refers to Hope's refusal to explain as an action denoting "moral courage," but "Governor Winthrop was not accustomed to have his inquisitorial rights resisted by those of his own household, and he was more struck than pleased" by Hope's silence (175).

A series of captivities soon ensues, including those of Faith and Magawisca by the Puritan militia and that of Hope by Mononotto and Oneco—from whom she escapes. This, Hope's first captivity, underscores Sedgwick's inversion of the usual convention; instead of passively waiting to be rescued by the hero, Hope takes the initiative and rescues herself.

Her relief, however, is only temporary because she soon happens upon the notorious pirate Chaddock and his men, who are in the midst of a drunken revel on the island. Momentarily lacking self-confidence, Hope naively asks for help and promises a monetary reward if they will take her to Boston. One of the men replies, "There's no reward could pay for you, honey" (240). Horrified, Hope runs away, but Chaddock's men pursue her until she discovers a boat, unties it, and pushes off. Once again, she saves herself.

Hope displays her quick wit under pressure when she discovers that one of Chaddock's men, Antonio Bastista, already occupies the boat. The Catholic Antonio mistakes her appearance for a visitation by the Virgin Mary. Because she has faithfully studied under Cradock, she understands the Italian language and informs Antonio that she is not what he believes her to be. Still under the impression that she is a celestial visitant, Antonio desperately begins guessing which saint she is. Thinking quickly, Hope allows him to believe that she is his patron saint, Petronilla, and asks him to take her to Boston. In this manner, she turns the situation to her advantage and safely arrives home without help from the hero and others who seek to rescue her.

Hope not only effects her own escape from captivity but also makes sure that others escape. When Magawisca is imprisoned and faces trial and a possible death sentence, Hope takes charge. She first courageously speaks to Governor Winthrop, asking for Magawisca's release. Of course, he denies her request; he also warns her against further intercession. Feeling strongly that Magawisca will not receive an unbiased trial and thus must be freed, Hope originates a plan and enlists the help of Everell, Digby, and Cradock. This daring plan succeeds, ending with Hope escorting Magawisca (disguised as Cradock) from prison under the watchful eye of the jailer.

Hope manifests intelligence, courage, and independence during every crisis. She absolutely will not abide by manmade laws—or even some Biblical laws as interpreted by men—if they oppose the dictates of her conscience. Unable to countenance injustice, she cannot help but intervene.

Like Hope, Magawisca evinces the traits which Sedgwick privileges. Magawisca, at fifteen, "was slender, flexible, and graceful; and there was a freedom and loftiness in her movement, which though tempered with modesty, expressed a consciousness of high birth" (23). She wore "an expression of dignity [and] thoughtfulness" (23). Mrs. Fletcher comments in a letter shortly before her death, "I have, sometimes, marvelled at the providence of God, in bestowing on this child of the forest, such rare gifts of mind, and other outward beauties" (32).

Throughout the novel, Magawisca evinces courage, along with pride in her heritage. When she comes to the Winthrop house to arrange for the meeting between the sisters, her ethnic pride surfaces as Hope reacts negatively to Faith and Oneco's marriage. Shocked, Hope cries, "My sister married to an Indian!" (188). Magawisca is equally scornful:

"An Indian!" exclaimed Magawisca, recoiling with a look of proud contempt, that showed she reciprocated, with full measure, the scorn expressed for her race. "Yes—an Indian, in whose veins runs the blood of the strongest, the fleetest children of the forest, who never turned their backs on friends or enemies, and whose souls have returned to the Great Spirit, stainless as they came from him. Think ye that your blood will be corrupted by mingling with this stream?"


She also displays her pride when she appears before the magistrates at her trial: "There was certainly nothing of the culprit, or suitor in the aspect of Magawisca; neither guilt, nor fearfulness, nor submission" (282). Accused of conspiracy, Magawisca looks at her judges and speaks: "I am your prisoner, and ye may slay me, but I deny your right to judge me. My people have never passed under your yoke—not one of my race has ever acknowledged your authority" (286). When the trial must be recessed for a month, Magawisca, hating to return to her dungeon, commands Governor Winthrop to give her "death or liberty" (293).

In direct contrast to Hope and Magawisca, Esther embodies the domestic virtues of piety, submissiveness, and obedience, and she is extremely inflexible in her beliefs. In the course of the novel, she repeatedly disappoints both Hope and Everell when either asks her to help in a good (but subversive) cause. Esther, clearly, would like very much to please them, but she cannot bring herself to do so. Her stern Puritan conscience and concomitant obedience to authority prevent her from thinking for herself. For instance, after Hope explains the ruse which she used to persuade Antonio to row her to shore, Esther is asked to comment on Hope's behavior: "I would rather, Hope, thou hadst trusted thyself wholly to that Providence that had so wonderfully wrought for thee thus far" (272). Esther, like the model Puritan maiden that she is, sees the hand of Providence behind Hope's deliverance. Sedgwick, however, clearly demonstrates that Hope alone, through her initiative, intelligence and quick wit, should have the credit for her escape.

Another instance which is emblematic of Esther's personality occurs when Magawisca is incarcerated. Everell begs her to help him in a scheme to free Magawisca; Esther adamantly denies him. The narrator comments on her refusal: "No earthly consideration could have tempted her to waver from the strictest letter of her religious duty.…[S]he thought they had not Scripture warrant for interfering between the prisoner and the magistrates" (277-78). Instead, she visits Magawisca daily in order to convert her to Puritanism, for the authorities have intimated that such a conversion may lighten her sentence. Thus, Esther and Magawisa become involved in a power play. Esther's attempt is doomed from the start—Magawisca wants no such instruction. So while Esther plays by the rules and fails, Hope enlists the help of Everell, Cradock, and Digby, and thereby secures Magawisca's escape. Undoubtedly, Esther would lay down her life for her friends, but she lacks the ability to bend the rules for them. Esther Downing, like her Aunt Winthrop, epitomizes the "passiveness, that, next to Godliness, is woman's best virtue" which was so esteemed by the patriarchy (153). Sedgwick's impatience with this attitude is obvious when she refers to the two women as "the straight-laced Mrs. Winthrop and her perpendicular niece" (114).

Catharine Maria Sedgwick valorized personality characteristics in Hope and Magawisca that are directly opposed to those promoted by patriarchal society. These two strong, active female characters evince traits which most other writers of frontier romances assigned to male characters. The combined force of Hope and Magawisca provide a devastating critique of women as inherently passive and weak. Through her portrayals of Hope and Magawisca, Sedgwick manipulated the conventions of the frontier romance to offer a covert feminist message critical of both Puritan and nineteenth-century society's treatment of women. This covert feminist message combines with a nonracist history of the events of King Philip's War to critique the androcentric Puritan histories which she used as sources. Sedgwick's subtext draws parallels between the disenfranchised Native Americans and white women, prefiguring the alliance between women and blacks later in the nineteenth century. Throughout the novel, she de-authorizes the presumed authority of white, male androcentric society; in this respect, Hope Leslie is even more radical than it appeared to be to its nineteenth-century readers.


  1. Edward Halsey Foster, Catharine Maria Sedgwick (New York: Twayne, 1974) 20.
  2. Foster 169 and 58, respectively.
  3. Margaret Fuller, as quoted in Bell Gale Chevigny, ed., in The Woman and the Myth: Margaret Fuller's Life and Writings (Old Westbury, NY: Feminist Press, 1976) 190. Catharine Maria Sedgwick was the only American woman writer whom Fuller ever cited by name.
  4. Foster 22.
  5. Mary Kelley, introd., Hope Leslie: or Early Times in the Massachusetts (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1987) xi. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
  6. Foster 23.
  7. Van Wyck Brooks, The Flowering of New England (New York: Dutton, 1936) 188.
  8. Michael Davitt Bell, "History and Romance Convention in Catharine Sedgwick's Hope Leslie," American Quarterly 22 (1970): 215.
  9. Bell 214-15.
  10. Early examples of the genre include Ann Eliza Bleecker's History of Maria Kittle (1793) and Susannah Rowson's Reuben and Rachel (1798). These early novels display "an uncertain welding of plot elements." Maria Kittle is little more than a fictionalized captivity narrative, while Reuben does connect the captivity narrative to the romances as later frontier romances do. See Louise K. Barnett, The Ignoble Savage: American Literary Racism, 1790-1890 (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1975).
  11. Lydia Maria Child's Hobomok (1824) varies from the established conventions of the genre in that the heroine Mary Conant marries the Indian Hobomok while in a deranged state of mind after learning of the apparent death of her white lover, Charles. After several years of marriage and the birth of a child, Charles reappears. Hobomok relinquishes his wife and fades into the forest; the child later goes to Harvard, and all traces of his Indian heritage are erased. See Lydia Maria Child, Hobomok (1824; rpt. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1986). As Carolyn Karcher has maintained, however, Child does not "contest the Puritan chroniclers' version of the wars that decimated the Indians … nor had she come to view the Indians … as the true heroes of the American epic" as she would a few years later. In The First Settlers of New-England (1828) Child does, however, argue against patriarchal authority and links the issues of male dominance and white supremacy. The message of Hobomok is that the alternative to war between Native Americans and whites is assimilation of Native Americans into white society. This, however, will involve eradication of Indian heritage and culture. See Karcher's "Introduction" to Hobomok and Other Writings on Indians (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1986), ix-xxxviii.
  12. Edward Halsey Foster states, "Hope Leslie was published a year after The Last of the Mohicans, and it is entirely possible that Miss Sedgwick's novel is in part an answer to Cooper's" (Foster 91).
  13. Sandra Zagarell notes that "Uncas was not 'the last of the Mohicans,' and one of his sons was named Oneco," the name Sedgwick chooses to give Faith Leslie's husband. See Zagarell's essay, "Expanding America: Lydia Sigourney's Sketch of Connecticut and Catharine Sedgwick's Hope Leslie," Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 6 (Fall 1987): 239; hereafter cited parenthetically in one text.
  14. Richard Slotkin points out that during King Philip's War (1675-78), "the New England colonies were driven nearly to the brink of destruction by a loose federation of formerly friendly tribes.… [It] was extraordinary from an historical standpoint: it was the last of the wars fought by New England without the aid or intervention of outside powers." See Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1800 (Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan UP, 1973), 79.
  15. Sedgwick relied on the histories penned by Hubbard, Winthrop, and Trumbell, according to Foster.
  16. Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Hope Leslie (1827; rpt. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1987) 6. Subsequent references are to this edition and will be cited parenthetically by page reference only.
  17. Annette Kolodny, The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630-1860 (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1984) 81.
  18. Slotkin 453.
  19. Barnett 119.
  20. Zagarell, Foster, and Gossett and Bardes assert that the marriage of Faith and Oneco alludes to Cooper's abhorrence of miscegenation and consequent separation of Cora and Uncas. See Suzanne Gossett and Barbara Bardes, Declarations of Independence: Women and Political Power in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1990). See, also, Gossett's "Women and Political Power in the Republic: Two Early American Novels," Legacy 2 (Fall 1985): 13-30.
  21. Leland Person, "The American Eve: Miscegenation and a Feminist Frontier Fiction," American Quarterly 37 (Winter 1985): 680-81.
  22. North American Review 26 (1828): 411.
  23. Western Monthly Review 1 (1828): 294.
  24. Erica R. Bauermeister notes that "Hope almost never fails in her endeavors; her one blunder is to attempt to make a match between Esther and Everell, mistakenly believing that submission against her nature would be a virtue.…"See Bauermeister, "The Lamp lighter, The Wide, Wide World, and Hope Leslie: Reconsidering the Recipes for Nineteenth-Century American Women's Novels," Legacy 8 (Spring 1991), 22.