Being required to read a bunch of literature for a lot of the classes I’m taking, I thought it would be prudent to write down what I thought of everything I read. Buckle up, because these specific reviews I will be hitting you with some knowledge. I’ll try my best to make it entertaining, as usual.
First on the list was Hope Leslie, a book written by Catharine Sedgwick in 1827 about Native American and colonial relations in the early seventeenth century. Around this time, the war of 1812 had just concluded, Jane Austen was writing her books, and this book published just before Andrew Jackson’s first term, which of course led to the Trail of Tears.
With this novel in particular, it’s important to establish both the time in which this was written in and about. To my knowledge, Sedgwick herself used this novel as a way to get people to be more sympathetic towards Native Americans. For hundreds of years they had been at odds with each other, and I believe this book was an attempt to shine a new light on their culture, and while clearly different from the original protestant society, they have been shown a grave disservice over the years.
But at the same time, the general public really wasn’t accepting of this culture. If Sedgwick had established that she was sympathetic and supportive of their cause, people wouldn’t have read it. So she had to dial back her views and make it a more subliminal message in a different novel.
In the first fourth of the book, the narrative focuses on the title character, Hope’s, adoptive mother’s household. Magawisca is a young Native American girl acquired as an ‘orphan servant’, and she explains to our sympathetic heroes that the colonists slaughtered her people. She provides a firsthand account of the dichotomy of what the children are being told versus what is really happening. She explains that her people are not peaceful, but her father abstained from aggressive action against the colonists until they knew their heart. One day they were attacked, and nearly all of her tribe was killed, leaving only Magawisca, her father, and her little brother, who was also staying at the Fletcher household.When Magawisca heroically saves one of the main characters from being killed, we see proof of her noble character. Clearly they aren’t all “savages”.
From that point on, the story is told from the point of view of Hope, seven years after the act of heroism. We don’t see much of Magawisca after that, and the plot of the book becomes that of a love triangle between herself, her friend, and her adoptive brother (whom she shares no blood with). This being of the same time period, it reads much like a Jane Austen novel, forgetting a lot of the underlying plot regarding the Indians until much later in the book when Magawisca returns.
As far as narrative goes, I must say it’s better than I had expected. Having read Hawthorne, Cooper, and other writers of that era, I’m elated to be able to read this book without requiring a translation. It isn’t the easiest of reads, and I won’t pretend otherwise. Somebody gets struck by a bolt of lightning mid-paragraph, and the archaic phrasing of these passages sometimes makes you scratch your head and think “Did I really read that correctly?”
So, page by page I think it’s a decent read, for what it’s worth. Convoluted plot not withstanding (I still have no idea if there’s even a difference between the characters Chaddock and Cradock). The first fourth of the book is very different from the rest of the book, and it reminded me of the animated Batman movie, The Killing Joke, but it’s not as bad. I also hate stupid love triangles in books, which means that the main plot of most of this novel made me groan a lot, but at least it’s making me groan in exasperation rather than confusion, I suppose. It’s not a great book, but for the time period I would probably put it near the top. I’d read it over Scarlet Letter any day.
As far as the history of the novel goes, I’m afraid it didn’t hold up very well. It didn’t read much like her first two books, and perhaps it didn’t walk the line of sympathy for Native Americans well enough for people to catch on, but whatever may have been the case, the Indian Removal Act was passed three years later. Sometimes humans are awful, but is there any other lesson history teaches us?