Catharine Maria Sedgewick's Hope Leslie
The title character of Catharine Maria Sedgewick’s novel, Hope Leslie, defies the standards to which women of the era were to adhere. Sedgewick’s novel is set in New England during the 17th century after the Puritans had broken away from the Church of England. Hope Leslie lives in a repressive Puritan society in which women behave passively, submit to the males around them, and live by the Bible. They allow the men of their family to make decisions for them and rarely, if ever, convey an opinion that differs from the status quo. However, Hope Leslie does not conform to the expected behavior of women during that time, behavior that only further expressed the supposed superiority of males. Hope portrays behaviors and attitudes common in a woman today. Hope is capable of thinking for herself, is courageous, independent, and aggressive. Sir Philip Gardner describes Hope as having “a generous rashness, a thoughtless impetuosity, a fearlessness of the… dictators that surround her, and a noble contempt of fear” (211). In comparison to Esther Downing, Hope is the antithesis of what a young Puritan woman should be, and in turn, Hope gains a great deal of respect from the readers of the novel through her “unacceptable” behavior.
Hope’s most noticeable characteristics, unusual for women of the time, are that she is assertive and aggressive, bold and daring, the opposite of the passivity that women were expected to portray. Hope speaks her mind freely, despite what consequences may follow. Those around her acknowledge her unwelcome behavior, and Governor Winthrop makes note of it to Mr. Fletcher. He tells Mr. Fletcher, “you must allow, brother, she hath not… that passiveness, that, next to godliness, is a woman’s best virtue” (160). He refers to Mr. Fletcher’s kind treatment of Hope, stating that as a possible cause of her demeanor. The situation that exemplifies Hope’s assertiveness is when Hope asks Winthrop to free Magawisca, to which he replies that she speaks unadvisedly. She continues on, telling Winthrop that he should release Magawisca based on “her merits, and rights,” to which he replies, “you have lost right suddenly that humble tone” (287). Hope is bold in asking the governor for the release of an Indian whose family is responsible for the massacre of a city. Her outspoken and assertive attitude are highly unusual for the typical woman in the Puritan society.
Hope is one of the few women of the novel who does not rely on the scripture to inform her of what is right and...