July 6, 2011

Extravagant praise of Hope Leslie

On July 6, 1827, Catharine Maria Sedgwick wrote to her brother:

I hear from all quarters what honestly seems to me very extravagant praise of 'Hope Leslie.' I trust I shall not be elated by it. At present I certainly am not, for I feel too heavily oppressed, too firmly grappled to the earth to mount in the balloon of vanity.

Sedgwick had published Hope Leslie earlier that year, a novel set during the early European settlement of New England. The title character and her sister Faith had moved in with a relative named Fletcher after the death of their parents. Assigned to the Fletcher household was Magawisca, a teenage girl who had been captured from the Pequod tribe. When her father, the chief of the tribe, comes to rescue her, he also captures Everell Fletcher and Faith Leslie (hope's sister). Her father prepares to execute Everell by publicly chopping off his head, but Magawisca intervenes:

Everell bent forward and pressed his forehead to the rock The chief raised the deadly weapon, when Magawisca, springing from the precipitous side of the rock, screamed "Forbear!" and interposed her arm. It was too late. The blow was levelled—force and direction given; the stroke, aimed at Everell's neck, severed his defender's arm, and left him unharmed. The lopped, quivering member dropped over the precipice.

Everell escapes and, over the years, Faith integrates into the tribe and marries Magawisca's brother. When Magawisca is falsely accused of conspiring against whites, Everell and Hope Leslie help her escape.

The novel was the most widely-read of Sedgwick's works; the author, however, seemed disinterested by its success. When friends told her it would bring her fame, she wrote: fame—what is it? the breath of man." She prayed that she would "resist pride, vanity, egotism, self-complacency, and all those selfish propensities and emotions... May I remember that the talent... is the gift of God."


  1. Sounds like a great summer reading book! Thanks for the recommendation. We have a friend in common, Dr. Ben Railton! And I think I met you at the Orchard House once.
    Anyway, wanted to say hi and very very very cool blog you have!

  2. Sedgwick's letter was written to her brother, Robert Sedgwick. She never married. See "The Life and Letters of Catharine M. Sedgwick" ed. Mary E. Dewey, Harper's 1871, page 187.

  3. Thanks for the correction -- this was a terrible and obvious mistake on my part (three years ago, egads!). I've updated it.