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The narration of Hope Leslie also offers some other insights into the radical nature of the novel. Sedgwick's personal experiences in her home town as well as in New England and Massachusetts helps to add to the realism and beauty of her own descriptions of these very same places within the novel. However, Sedgwick uses these beautiful, serene, and sometimes melancholy characterizations of the landscape to both enhance the novel's themes and underscore the interactions of the many characters as well as literary devices of their own accord (Schweitzer, 100). One excellent example of this is during Everell's captivity, where Sedgwick uses the vivid and sometimes philosophical landscapes as an integral part of the dramatic action that takes place.
In this way, Sedgwick is one of the first novelists to use this sort of technique in a way that both highlights the natural surroundings in the story and how these surroundings are symbolic of the historical drive for the Puritans to conquer and make captive both nature and the Native Americans (Schweitzer, 91). As the novel was written, from the standpoint of impartial observer, it is almost as if the narrator is taking the place of the reader in observing these changes and highlighting not the significance of them, but the fact that they exist at all. The author gives the reader some latitude in their understanding of the landscape, but in doing so, shares her own intentions for the landscape to be almost a character itself within the novel.
Another curious yet important theme that arises from the author's own experiences and perspective is the idea that women are not the property of their husbands and if a woman so chooses, she does not have to marry. This was not quite a revolutionary idea at the time of the writing of Hope Leslie, but it was rather uncommon for women not to marry (Samuels, 59). In a stroke of autobiographical genius, Sedgwick incorporates her own worldview relative to her feelings about marriage into the novel. The character of Esther Downing, who remains unmarried and who concentrates on her own ambitions as a woman, is a sort of allegory for the type of woman Sedgwick sees herself as in real life. Sedgwick even goes so far as to begin to work her own feelings into the character, and in one very revealing and contextually important passage, takes the time to relate her own perspective on the matter through Esther. Just as Esther refuses to, "Give to a party what was meant for mankind." (Sedgwick, 350) Sedgwick herself remained unmarried until her death in the mid 19th century. This is testament to the uncanny and sometimes outright unconventional attitudes and perspectives held by the author, and included in Hope Leslie.
Sedgwick's novel Hope Leslie is a 19th century literary anomaly. In achieving this status the author is able to highlight the ideas and ideals that keep two cultures separate while exposing the fact that all humans have similar and equal drives and ambitions in life. The themes of love, captivity, women's rights, nature, and equality are all explored in ways that allow the reader to see the stark comparisons through the interactions between the Native Americans and the Puritans. Sedgwick's novel was ahead of her time, and yet as she used her colleague's understanding and research relative to the historical habits and interactions between the English settlers and the Native Americans, she was able to open up a dialogue among readers. Many of Sedgwick's personal or autobiographical commentary takes place within her novel as well, as her own life was not unlike that of the character Esther Downing. It is important to understand the social and historical implications of such a novel and give credit to Sedgwick as a visionary of her time in incorporating both picturesque scenery and social commentary into a work of historical fiction.
Emerson, Amanda. "History, Memory, and the Echoes of Equivalence in Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie." Legacy. Vol. 24, No. 1, 2007, pp. 24-49.
Samuels, Shirley. "Women, Blood, and Contract." American Literary History. Vol. 20, No. 1-2, pp. 57-75
Schweitzer, Ivy. Perfecting Friendship: Politics and Affiliation in Early American Literature. The University…[continue]
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