Catharine Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie (1827) and the Revision of the Puritan Past

Teresa Requena Pelegrí

Abstract


Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s texts and achievement have been long overshadowed by the undisputed recognition of some of her male contemporaries. James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving or William Cullen Bryant have received all the credit for having shaped -and for many, created- U.S. literature. However, Sedgwick’s contribution to the development of a specific native tradition in American letters is undeniable. Long before Ralph Waldo Emerson’s call for a specifically national subject-matter, Sedgwick was consciously giving her texts an American perspective by combining the techniques used in sentimental fiction with the historical romance. Set in colonial times, Hope Leslie or Early Times in the Massachusetts (1827) constitutes one of Sedgwick’s poignant explorations of the Puritan past of the country and its interrelation with issues of gender and race. By fusing Puritan historical accounts with fiction, Sedgwick’s technique succeeds in foregrounding the partiality of historical accounts in opposition to their supposedly objective exposition of facts and in this way the text manages to challenge Puritan self-righteous historiography. Moreover, the use of the Puritan past as material for her fiction together with the inclusion of Native American characters makes Sedgwick an extremely interesting foil to other contemporaries such as Nathaniel Hawthorne or James Fenimore Cooper. This paper wishes to explore Sedgwick’s version of the Puritan presence in the American colonies and compare it with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s to demonstrate how the former made gender indistinguishable form the construction of a national narrative. The paper also tackles Sedgwick’s sexual and racial politics in her treatment of fully developed Native American characters thus constituting an enlightening counterpart to the stereotypical and reductive portrayal found in James Fenimore Cooper’s work.

Keywords


Catharine Maria Sedgwick; Hope Leslie; historical romance; Puritan historiography; colonial America; ambivalent feminism

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1344/co20093136-142

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