Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 2) >> Sentimental and Liberated Heroines: Bess Matthews and Mary Granger in The Yemassee >> Page 29

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Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription Sentimental and Liberated Heroines: Bess
Matthews and Mary Granger in The Yemassee

Melanie R. Anderson

In The Yemassee (1835), Simms examines the epic struggle
between the English settlers of the area surrounding Charleston, South
Carolina, and the native population composed predominantly of Yemassees.
According to John Caldwell Guilds, this novel represents Simms's first
attempt to write an "American epic" (61). Simms's aim within The
Yemassee is to "[deal] with American history in its initial savage foi In, the
warfare between European settlers and Native Americans over the very land
itself, and [to depict] an era fraught with the irreconcilable and competitive
purposes, cultures, and philosophies of strikingly different people" (61).
While Simms does illustrate the epic early American clash between cultures
through his warring heroes, Gabriel Harrison and Chief Sanutee, he also
develops two very different female characters. As a pair, Bess Matthews and
Mary Granger break expected literary roles.
Bess Matthews is the traditional sentimental heroine of light hair,
fair complexion, and high moral principle. On the other hand, Mary Granger
seems to be a character in transition from the sentimental heroine toward an
anticipation of the "New Woman" of the later nineteenth century.' Mary is a
liminal individual, blending feminine and masculine characteristics into a
defiant figure able to protect her own person and that of her husband. Bess
and Mary, taken together, can be read on a spectrum moving from Bess as

1 Throughout this essay, I use the terms "anticipation,""prototype," and "antecedent" to
describe Mary Granger's relationship to the "New Woman" since Simms could not have known
of a movement that did not exist at the publication of his novel. The "New Woman" movement
was at its height during the 1880s and 1890s.