Limited opportunities for women to share their opinions publicly throughout the Nineteenth century caused an abundance of females to communicate their ideas through writing. Catharine Maria Sedgwick was among the first of American authors to publish historical and other fiction. Much of her work deals with the role of white women in society, especially involving the Cult of Domesticity or True Womanhood. Sedgwick managed to incorporate her unorthodox views on women’s behavior, relationships, religion, and people foreign to her culture, while still appealing to a broad audience. Her novels, A New-England Tale, published in 1822 and Hope Leslie published in 1827, contradict the mainstream ideals of her time. The time period and culture, during which Sedgwick matured, along with her family relationships, greatly influenced her work.
The roles of men and women were clearly defined during the Nineteenth century. Society relied on men to support the women and children, while the women held the responsibility of maintaining the morality of America. Women were judged by four main characteristics: piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. According to most literature of the time written by both males and females, a woman without these was nothing, but with them she could attain happiness and power (Welter 102).
Piety was an extremely important attribute for a woman. Men looking for wives were instructed to look for a pious woman because their lives would fall into place due to her piety. Women’s advice journals and books discussed piety. Caleb Atwater wrote in the January 1841 edition of The Ladies Reposi...
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Clements, Victoria. Introduction. A New-England Tale. By Catharine Maria Sedgwick. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Kelley, Mary. Introduction. The Power of Her Sympathy. By Catharine Maria Sedgwick. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1993.
Sedgwick, Catharine. A New England Tale. Ed. Victoria Clements. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
---- Hope Leslie. Ed. Mary Kelley. London: Rutgers University Press, 1987.
Welter, Barbara. “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860.” Nineteenth Century Literature March 1966: 102-106. Jstor. On-line. 10 Nov. 2002.
Zagarell, Sandra. “Expanding ‘America’: Lydia Sigourney’s Sketch of Connecticut, Catharine Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie.” Redefining the Political Novel Ed. Sharon M. Harris The University of Tennessee Press: Knoxville, 1995. 43-60.
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