Hope Leslie by Catharine Maria Sedgwick

Date of Publication: 1827Number of Pages: 371

Synopsis: Set in seventeenth-century New England, Hope Leslie portrays early American life and celebrates the role of women in building the republic. A counterpoint to the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, this frontier romance challenges the conventional view of Indians, tackles interracial marriage and cross-cultural friendship, and claims for women their rightful places in history. At the center of the novel are two friends. Hope Leslie, a spirited thinker in a repressive Puritan society, fights for justice for the Indians and asserts the independence of women. Magawisca, the passionate daughter of a Pequot chief, braves her father’s wrath to save a white man and risks her freedom to reunite Hope with her long-lost sister, captured as a child by the Pequots. Amply plotted, with unforgettable characters, Hope Leslie is a rich, compelling, deeply satisfying novel. ~blurb from back cover

Review: This is an extraordinary historical romance about the complex relationship between the Puritan settlers of New England and the Native Americans they encountered. Hope Leslie is a spirited heroine who seems out of place in this repressive society; but at the same time, she is able to bring out the best of those around her. She has an amazing effect on her friends, and has almost a sorceress-like quality with which she bends them to her will. In no way, however, is she an anti-Christian heroine. She is as virtuous as any Puritan woman, but she also prefers to follow the desires of her own emotions. She is alike in many ways to Everell Fletcher, her childhood companion, who gets caught up in her adventures.

This story is very much a romance, in that the main characters, Hope, Everell, and Magawisca, a Pequot princess, possess qualities that ordinary people don’t. They commit acts of fierce loyalty and sacrifice, and have the willingness sacrificing their lives or freedom to help an innocent. The other characters in the book, however virtuous, are nonetheless content to trust in Providence. They do not go out of their way, risking everything, to do what they feel and know is right.

Hope Leslie is also an historical novel. It depicts not only real people, like Governor Winthrop and Cotton Mather, but also real events, like the tragic Pequot War. Magawisca relates the story of the massacre of her village like a real witness. In reality, many of the unfortunate Pequot survivors were sold into slavery, or forced to become servants, which is exactly what happens to Magawisca and her brother, Oneco. Although the story itself is fiction, one can readily see that the portrayal of real-life people and events gives it a credibility that other novels set in the period do not have. It is likely that events much like the ones depicted in Hope Leslie did take place, in some form.

Rating: 8.5/10

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