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Bringing out Censored Stories and Reassessing the Past in Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie

Author(s): Teresa Requena Pelegrí

Journal: Coolabah
ISSN 1988-5946

Volume: 3;
Start page: 136;
Date: 2009;
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Keywords: Catharine Maria Sedgwick | Hope Leslie | historical romance | Puritan historiography | colonial America | ambivalent feminism.

Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s texts and achievement have been longovershadowed by the undisputed recognition of some of her male contemporaries.James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving or William Cullen Bryant have received allthe credit for having shaped -and for many, created- U.S. literature. However,Sedgwick’s contribution to the development of a specific native tradition in Americanletters is undeniable. Long before Ralph Waldo Emerson’s call for a specificallynational subject-matter, Sedgwick was consciously giving her texts an Americanperspective by combining the techniques used in sentimental fiction with the historicalromance.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 countryand its interrelation with issues of gender and race. By fusing Puritan historical accountswith fiction, Sedgwick’s technique succeeds in foregrounding the partiality of historicalaccounts in opposition to their supposedly objective exposition of facts and in this waythe text manages to challenge Puritan self-righteous historiography. Moreover, the useof the Puritan past as material for her fiction together with the inclusion of NativeAmerican characters makes Sedgwick an extremely interesting foil to othercontemporaries such as Nathaniel Hawthorne or James Fenimore Cooper. This paperwishes to explore Sedgwick’s version of the Puritan presence in the American coloniesand compare it with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s to demonstrate how the former madegender indistinguishable form the construction of a national narrative. The paper alsotackles Sedgwick’s sexual and racial politics in her treatment of fully developed NativeAmerican characters thus constituting an enlightening counterpart to the stereotypicaland reductive portrayal found in James Fenimore Cooper’s work.
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