I'm traveling at the moment, but due to the time difference between Nebraska and California, I found time at four in the morning to write up a review of Catharine Sedgwick's Hope Leslie (1827). I'm including it here in the blog, but it will also appear on my review page for later reference.
I read the book because my heroine, Addy, is currently reading it in Saved by the Bullet. It also includes lots of phrases and vocabulary that I can include in Addy's (second) story (which is set in the year 1857).
I'm just about done going through the first rough draft of Saved by the Bullet, though I still need to write the conclusion, and hope to have it published by the end of July. Then I can have it ready for the fall season, which is when most people purchase books.
The reason I haven't written the conclusion yet is because I'm not sure Addy won't find out a few more things about the crime she's investigating as I go through the rough draft. She has a mind of her own and always surprises me. So hopefully she'll have a few surprises for her fans.
All for now, as I'd better get a move on down to Porterville where my sisters, brothers, and I are to clean out the old homeplace.
For those interested in early 19th century literature, here is the Hope Leslie review...
Hope Leslie, by Catharine Sedgwick
Review by Preston Shires
As with her final novel, some thirty years later, author Cathatrine Sedgwick, in her thirties and yet single, ends her story with a message aimed at those who hold the unmarried woman in contempt: A lady does not need a spouse to live a fulfilling life. This reproach is clearly leveled at her contemporaries, but veiled within this historical fiction that critiques colonial life, and in particular Puritan life of the 1640s, are many other criticisms of her own society. Miss Sedgwick's sympathy for the plight of the Indian in colonial days, her dismay with the treatment he received at the hands of her Christian forebearers, her dispproval of Puritan religious intolerance, her impatience with conforming and submissive Puritan women, all these concerns have their manifestations in her own day.
And yet, though Catharine Sedgwick calls into question the attitudes and behaviors of her Puritan ancestors, she does admire them, she does find their redeeming qualities. If they were bigoted and fearful of imaginary demons and witches, they were also sincere, and they possessed a selfless desire to please God that could not leave the Deity wholly indifferent. Perhaps most importantly, hidden away behind their mask of epic piety, and surfacing when the exigencies of the day obliged them to drop that mask, resided within their soul, a natural practical kindness, thoughtfulness, and even forebearance that owed something, no matter how obscured, to their scriptural knowledge of God's mercy. Without the Puritans, no matter how grievous their faults, the loving light of true religion would not have illuminated the darkened minds of those Indians who, though knowledgeable of God and his sufficiency and generosity, knew not of his forgiveness.
Catharine Sedgwick's Unitarian outlook, which assumes that every culture possesses a true and sufficient understanding of God, provides a moral framework for her social commentary.
The strongest theme of the work is wrapped up in the thoughts and behavior of the main character, Hope Leslie. Hope is considerate of others but also a non-conformist who follows her heart rather than any artificial precepts born of unnatural theological abstractions. She is the prototype for the American woman, someone who is submissive only when it makes sense, and who is independent in mind and action when submission does not follow what the heart knows to be true. It is this woman who wins the admiration and love of Everell Fletcher, who, in his turn, proves to be the ideal American man. He too dispenses with unnecessary custom; and though he has fallen in love with Hope, he exhibits a respect for her that typically exists between brother and sister. In sum, the author imagines true marital love being based upon a mutual respect commonly found in the brother-sister relationship--a certain intellectual equality of mind and capability--that is enriched by romance precisely because the two individuals are not brother and sister.
Probably the most intriguing aspect of Miss Sedgwik's story for 21st century Americans is the role of Hope's sister, Faith. Faith's character was based upon one of Catharine Sedgwick's ancestors who was kidnapped by Indians and found her home among them. In the novel, Faith, after living within a tribe for several years, is captured and brought back to Boston. She exists in the town as a wild bird in a cage and pines for her Indian husband and Indian way of life.
The story moves slowly by 21st century standards, but it does have some gentle twists and turns. There is a question as to whether Everell will marry as told or whether he will marry for love: Will it be the very perfect Esther or the very natural Hope? And there is the Indian princess who has tender thoughts for Everell, and to whom Everell is indebted. And there is, of course, a villain who appears, the rake who plots Hope's downfall.
Of course, all ends well, except for the villain.
As hinted at above, it does take patience to read this book today, but it conveys messages that resonate today, social commentaries that are, as we say, politically correct. It surprises in that measure. Broadens our understanding of 19th century white society. Perhaps the early Victorians were not as limited in their social understandings as we, rather self-righteously, would have them to be.
Importantly for the writer of historical fiction, the book is a treasure trove of idioms and vocabulary for the early 19th century. For that alone, it is worthy of a careful perusal.
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