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INTERPOSITIONS: HOPE LESLIE, WOMEN'S PETITIONS, AND HISTORICAL FICTION IN JACKSONIAN AMERICA Amy Dunham Strand University ofWashington Magawisca, springing from the precipitous side ofthe rock, screamed— "Forbear!" and interposed her arm. It was too late. The blow was leveled —force and direction given—the stroke aimed at Everell's neck, severed his defender's arm, and left him unharmed. This heroic moment in Catharine Sedgwick's most popularnovel, in which Magawisca "interposes" her arm to save young Everell Fletcher from death at the hands ofher father, the Pequot chiefMononotto, has often been interpreted as a rewriting ofPocahontas's intervention onbehalfofJohn Smith.1 While there are parallels between the two, such an interpretation overlooks the scene's significance as one of many instances of interposition or intervention on behalf of the innocent in Hope Leslie (1827). Magawisca's heroism here is part of a pattern of intercessions on behalf of the Fletcher family, in which she "interposes " herself emotionally, rhetorically, or, as above, physically between the Fletchers and her father. In fact, the novel is framed by reciprocal acts of interposition, since, in its second volume, Everell Fletcher and Hope Leslie interpose on behalfofMagawisca. Interpose is Sedgwick's term, one that she uses no fewer than twenty times in the course of Hope Leslie to suggest an act of intercession between the powerful and powerless to bring about a higher justice.2 Through the novel's repeated configurations of victims, intercessors, and authority figures, Sedgwick explores the overarching theme of"interpositions ," a broad category embracing a range of emotional, rhetorical, or physical intercessory acts with inherently political content, raising questions about the legitimate resistance to authority.3 Foundational to Sedgwick's concept ofinterposition is the petition—a specific form for her heroines' rhetorical interpositions, using a religiously-resonant posture to make palatable requests for justice that challenged prevailing power structures. Throughout Hope Leslie, Sedgwick reiterates synonyms forpetition—supplication, entreaty, appeal, and prayer— and underscores the centrality of the petition's persuasive means of 132AmyDunham Strand interposingbyaccentuatingherheroines' deferentphysicalstance in making petitions. Moreover, in using such a deferent posture, Sedgwick's protagonists employ elements ofthe petition that antebellum American women would adopt. Hope Leslie imagines forms for women's political interpositions, particularly the petition, and participates discursively in the white women's petitioning campaigns of the antebellum era, illuminating this context for today's scholars. In their unprecedented efforts to petition collectively in 1830, white women applied an awareness ofpetitioning as a request "for our fellow creatures" to their political interpositions on behalf of Native American Indians. From an antebellum theological perspective, the termpetition was in fact often understood as a kind ofinterposition, albeit more moderate and rhetorical (whether written or spoken) than Magawisca's dramatic bodily interposition. Frequently called intercession , a petition was a part ofprayer including "a desire of deliverance from evil, and a request of good things to be bestowed . . . not only lor ourselves but lor our lellow creatures also."4 What Hope Leslie imagines as individual, spoken intercessions, white women would take up in collective, written form in their 1830s petitions to Congress on behalf of Native Americans. While there is no direct historical link between Hope Leslie and women's actual petitions, they share remarkable rhetorical similarities. Both fundamentally announced themselves as interpositions on behalf of others' natural rights, initially made use of a supplicating stance and humble tone, and ultimately challenged patriarchal structures through their articulation ofpolitical opinion, moving women an important step toward citizenship.5 Their similarities as rhetorical interpositions give them an imaginative continuity worth closely considering. Indeed, the implicit political content of women's petitions is foregrounded by Sedgwick's use ofthe form in scenes that reverberated with the rhetorical postures and with the political, gendered, and racialized issues that would animate women's petitions in her own era. In Sedgwick's depiction of the verbal petitions that precede Magawisca's interposition ofher arm, she links the deferent postures and powerful pleas for mercy which supply the form and content of women's petitioning. Magawisca is described as "sinking down at her father's feet and clasping her hands," begging Mononotto to save the Fletchers in a kneeling posture that submissively disguises the radical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 131-164
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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