Hope Leslie: Or, Early Times in the Massachusetts (1827)

by Catharine Maria Sedgwick

In the 19th century, Catharine Maria Sedgwick was considered in the ranks of American literature founders James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and William Cullen Bryant. Through most of the 20th century, however, she faded into obscurity. Readers rediscovered Sedgwick in 1987, when her Hope Leslie: Or, Early Times in the Massachusetts was published as part of Rutgers University Press' American Women Writers Series.

Hope Leslie is set in 17th-century Massachusetts, where the process of displacing the Native Americans began; the conflict between the colonists and the indigenous population drives the plot. Sedgwick gives readers a perspective they won't get from the histories left by the Puritans and challenges the ethnocentric view that prevailed in her own time, when Americans were still taking Indian land.

Sedgwick countered her era's stereotypes of both Native Americans and women in portraying both her title character and a second heroine as the equal of any white man in morality and courage. The Pequod Indian maiden Magawisca endangers her own life to save a white boy and later challenges her white captors to kill her rather than take away her freedom. Hope Leslie follows her conscience in the patriarchal society of Puritan New England, defying John Winthrop himself to aid Magawisca.  

Adding to the book's appeal is a fast-paced plot with romance, adventure, threats and escapes, and a villain. It's one of the novels recommended by 500 Great Books by Women.

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