Jane Elton's Identity Conflict in Catherine Maria Sedgwick’s A New England Tale

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Jane Elton's Identity Conflict in Catherine Maria Sedgwick’s A New England Tale

In her article “‘But is it any good?’: Evaluating Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Fiction,” Susan Harris provides methods and criteria for examining Women’s Fiction in what she calls “process analysis” (45). To apply Harris’ guidelines to Catherine Maria Sedgwick’s A New England Tale, I must first “acknowledge the ideological basis of [my] endeavor” (45) as a feminist/equalitist critique of the text. Furthermore, I identify the three-fold approach that Harris describes as historical, in distinguishing early nineteenth-century from mid- to late-century attitudes, rhetorical, in labeling Sedgwick’s communication to readers didactic, and ideological, by understanding my objections stem from twenty-first-century attitudes. Harris also explains, “If we look at them as both reactive and creative…we can understand [texts’] aesthetic, moral, and political values” (45); I consider A New England Tale to have a sentimental aesthetic, a Christian morality, and a support of female subordination.

The concern of this paper is the “happy ending,” typical in Women’s Fiction according to Harris (46), present in A New England Tale, in which Jane Elton sacrifices her autonomous self through marrying Mr. Lloyd. I will critique this ending by applying several of the points Harris makes, including the conflict between theme and structure, the “extended quest for autonomy” (50), and the issue of the self-willing and “socially determined self” (54); also, I will discuss the sexual and religious politics Jane faces, as well as the importance of her role as educator. Readers can understand the autonomous self to which I refer in a nineteenth-century context: this do...

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...orphaned, to abused, to truly loved. Therefore readers supporting these stances likely align with Sedgwick in viewing Jane’s marrying Mr. Lloyd as better than her marrying Erskine; however, consider that Sedgwick promotes Christian morality/values. Contemporary non-religious feminist/equalitist readers would likely desire for Jane to live independently: while this may not have been historically feasible, we can still prefer that Jane choose loyally to her self, that if she must marry, her choice does not sacrifice her identity.

Works Cited and Consulted

Foster, Edward Halsey. Catharine Maria Sedgwick. New York: Twayne, 1974.

Harris, Susan K.. "'But is it any good?': Evaluating Nineteenth-Century American Women's Fiction." American Literature 63 (March 1991): 42-61.

Sedgwick, Catherine Maria. A New England Tale, and Miscellanies. New York: Putnam, 1852.

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