Hope Leslie: Or, Early Times in the Massachusetts by Catharine Maria Sedgwick. Specifically, it will contain a critical analysis of the text. “Hope Leslie” is a romantic novel that sheds light on Puritanical views of the time, and involves two young heroines who both love the same man. This novel indicates the differences between Hope, a young New England Puritan, and Magawisca, a young Native American Pequod. They both love Everell Fletcher, and they certainly both are deserving of his love. That Hope ends up with Everell is romantic, but it is also quite representative of the time this novel was written, where there was still a sharp division between the Native Americans (savages) and the New England Puritans. This novel illustrates that division, and a society that was unwilling to accept racial differences in their relationships, and in their lives.
Written in 1827, “Hope Leslie” is the story of a young Puritan girl living in New England. Hope is the daughter of Alice, William Fletchers first love. When Alice dies, she sends her two daughters, Faith (Mary) and Hope (Alice), to live with William and his family in New England. At the same time, another “orphan,” Magawisca, the daughter of a Pequot chief and a Native American captive, also comes to the family to act as a servant. However, Magawisca is a princess in her own world, and a regal one at that. Sedgwick writes, “The Indian stranger was tall for her years, which did not exceed fifteen. Her form 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” (Sedgwick 1-39-40). Thus, the two heroines, both about the same age, enter the household at the same time, (although Hope is with William Fletcher, and does not meet Magawisca, or the rest of the family before they are massacred), and encounter Everell, William Fletchers son, who they both come to love. Sedgwick describes Everell as a “fair ruddy boy of fourteen; his smooth brow and bright curling hair, bore the stamp of the morning of life; hope and confidence and gladness beamed in the falcon glance of his keen blue eye; and love and frolic played about his lips” (Sedgwick 1-39). Everell stands up for Magawisca almost immediately, while the rest of the family immediately begins trying to convert her into their “Christian” ways. From the minute she enters the household, the family repeatedly tells her she came from savages, and should be thankful to be where she is. They totally ignore her background and her culture, and want her to do the same. This indicates the disregard the English settlers had for the natives, and illustrates how they could take their land from them so quickly and so unemotionally. They felt the natives were nothing but uneducated savages, and that they had no meaning or reason for being unless they converted to Christianity. The two heroines show the very different lives two young women at the same time, in the same area, could, and did live, and they also show the prejudice and misunderstanding that was so prevalent at the time. Hope comes to love Everell too, as her letters to him in England clearly show. She loves him so much that she even steps aside when she believes he loves Esther instead of her.
Written in 1827, many critics consider “Hope Leslie” Catharine Maria Sedgwicks finest novel. In it, she illustrates early Puritan attitudes toward religion, the family, and the Native Americans, while telling the romantic tale of Faith, Hope, and Magawisca. One critic notes, “Critics universally proclaimed it an American masterpiece, and Sedgwick secured national and international fame” (Saulsbury 353) after the publication of this historical romance novel. Sedgwicks own life mirrors some of the situations in the novel, although she never married. In fact, she was a unique woman for her time, who worked for causes she believed in and chose a career over a home and family. Perhaps that is why her novels are so memorable, because they consumed her entire life. One biographer notes, “She wrote three more novels and over 100 stories in which she challenged the social and political mores of the country. She advocated reforms in tenement conditions, the end of dueling, and religious toleration” (Richards 332). “Hope Leslie” certainly challenges the mores of the country because it takes a serious look at Puritanical belief systems, and portrays most of the Native Americans sympathetically, while showing how prejudiced whites often mistreated them. Sedgwick was a feminist writer long before her time, and her own views filter into her novels, where she creates strong and vital heroines who take matters into their own hands.
There are some rumors that one of Sedgwicks own relatives was captured by Indians, which may have also influenced her writing of this novel (Bardes and Gossett). Sedgwick is famous for her romantic novels, and this novel is no exception, because the underlying story is of Hope and her happy marriage after many misunderstandings and twists.
Both young women have many similarities besides their age, living arrangement, and growing regard for Everell. They are both strong and courageous women who will stand up for what they believe in. One critic notes that they both share traits of another heroine, “Rebecca/Rowena” of an earlier interracial novel by Sir Walter Scott, “Ivanhoe,” where Rebecca is Jewish and finally cast away as a suitable match for the hero. Critic Cagidemetrio writes, “Rebeccas traits are given both to Magawisca and to Hope; both speak for the new woman, the republican female citizen of the postrevolutionary nation; they are both bold and independent, open-minded and generous” (Cagidemetrio 34). Before Hopes arrival, in an extremely brave act, Magawisca defies her own father to save the family that has taken her in. “Magawisca darted before the Indian who was advancing towards Mrs. Fletcher with an uplifted hatchet. You shall hew me to pieces ere you touch her, she said, and planted herself as a shield before her benefactress” (Sedgwick 1-107). Later, she loses her arm saving Everell from certain death in the forest. “Magawisca, springing from the precipitous side of the rock, screamed — “Forbear!” And interposed her arm. It was too late. The blow was levelled — force and direction given — the stroke aimed at Everells neck, severed his defenders arm, and left him unharmed” (Sedgwick 1-156). She would give her own life to save Everell, and her bravery is an important part of her character that she shares with Hope.
Hope is also strong and courageous. She has the strength to stand up to Mr. Fletcher after she takes Cradock to Nelema to cure his snakebite. She thinks to herself, “I made no reply, but mentally resolved that I would task my power and ingenuity to the utmost to justify Nelema” (Sedgwick 1-177). Later, Hope is the one who frees Nelema from prison to flee from the death sentence the Court handed down because she was a witch. She is witty and brave, and it is easy to see how Everell could fall in love with her, even from the distance of England. In addition, she is strong enough to stand aside when she thinks Everell loves another. Sedgwick writes, “Hope flew to her side, took her hand, placed it in Everells, threw her arm around Esther, kissed her cheek, and darted out of the house” (Sedgwick 2-71). She is also quick enough to escape from the Indians, and sure of herself enough to make it back to civilization. Moreover, she is brave enough to help Everell plan Magawisca escape from prison. “At the instant the prison door was closed, Magawisca divested herself of her hideous disguise, and proceeded on with Hope, to the place where Everell was awaiting them, with the necessary means to transport her beyond the danger of pursuit” (Sedgwick 2-234). She is unselfish, and that is part of her strength, and her charm.
Both girls literally grow up with Everell, and both initially see him as a beloved brother. He teaches Magawisca English, and she in turn teaches him about the customs of her people. Sedgwick writes, “She, in her turn, doth take much delight in describing to him the customs of her people, and relating their traditionary tales, which are like pictures, captivating to a youthful imagination. He hath taught her to read, and reads to her Spensers rhymes, and many other books of the like kind” (Sedgwick 1-55). Later, her real feelings for Everell are shown as he helps her escape back to her people. “Her affection for Everell Fletcher had the tenderness, the confidence, the sensitiveness of womans love; but it had nothing of the selfishness, the expectation, or the earthliness of that passion” (Sedgwick 2-149). He is clearly interested in the young native girl, with her captivating looks and exotic background, and it would not be difficult to see them as a couple, except for.