Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hope Leslie

A little while back, I finished Hope Leslie or, Early Times in the Massachusetts by Catharine Maria Sedgwick. I read the Penguin Classics edition, because they always have helpful introductions and background information, but for those of you who just want to read it without all of the extra information, grab any copy you want.

If you haven't read much early American literature, Hope Leslie is a great place to start. It's set in seventeenth-century New England, with a very strong main character and unexpected plot twists. Sedgwick wrote around the same time as James Fenimore Cooper, but there are significant contrasts between their works. Their Native American characters, for instance, differ extremely. And what really gets me are the characters. Women play a primary role in the novel, which is something you don't see very often in early American literature (even less often than in British literature at the time). Their role is only achieved through decided independence and discovered wiggle room in their atmospheres, however, because men still rule the culture of the day. The plot centers around a young woman, living in a Puritan community, whose sister was captured by the Pequots when they were both children. Her primary aim is to win this sister back again, but there are all sorts of complications caused by both the societies (Puritan and Pequot) and individuals.

In comparing and contrasting the cultures of a Puritan society with a Pequot tribe, Sedgwick finds much to be admired about different kinds of people, beliefs, and traditions. Hope Leslie really is an interesting and slyly informative read, especially for those interested in the American colonies or the interactions between Puritan and Native American cultures (without all of that frustrating violence).