Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 2) >> Sentimental and Liberated Heroines: Bess Matthews and Mary Granger in The Yemassee >> Page 30

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Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription sentimental heroine toward Mary Granger as a prototype of the liberated
"New Woman" figure. Mary's liminality as a female character, however, is
similar to the liminal new frontier space of America during the historical
setting of The Yemassee and can be connected to Simms's concern for
representing the development of a distinctively American epic.
According to Frederic I. Carpenter, "In the mid-nineteenth century
golden hair became an attribute of the pure and innocent maiden; while dark
hair suggested the woman of passion and experience" (253). For Carpenter,
Melville and Hawthorne ultimately privilege the innocence and purity of the
traditional fair-headed maiden, usually relegating the dark-haired counterpart
to the impetuousness and passion associated with sexual desire: "In these
[works] blondeness is .an ideal virtue and darkness a serious and sometimes
unforgivable sin" (254).
James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1826) also
operates on this principle. The heroines, Alice and Cora Munro, are sisters,
yet the two are strikingly different in appearance. Alice has a "dazzling
complexion, fair golden hair, and bright blue eyes" with an innocent bloom
on her cheek, while Cora has a "dark eye" and "shining and black" hair
(Cooper 11). Cora is Alice's half-sister and is a descendant of the
"unfortunate class who are so basely enslaved to administer to the wants of
luxurious people" in the West Indies (161). When he learns the cause of
Cora's dark physical appearance, Duncan Heyward, who desires a marriage
with the innocent Alice, feels an uncontrollable inner recoil. At the end of
the book, Alice survives and marries Duncan, but Cora dies during the chase
after Magua. Her death is foreshadowed when she pleads to Tamenund for
Alice's life. She insists that she suffers "the curse of my ancestors," and she
asserts that Alice is "too good...too precious, to become the victim of that
villain [Magua]" (316). Alice and Cora follow the character types that
Carpenter describes. Alice is too pure to be a victim, and she is rescued and
married to the hero. Cora is, however, a product of miscegenation, and her
dark appearance suggests her doom from the beginning of the novel. She is
the one who looks at Magua's face, and she develops a connection with
Uncas. Because her dark hair would suggest a worldly experience, she tries
to persuade Magua to take her as a wife rather than the innocent Alice. In
the end, Alice remains pure and marries honorably, while Cora's presence is
Since, according to Guilds, Simms, in 1834, was "rivaled in
popularity only by Cooper" and, in writing The Yemassee, may have "[taken]
advantage of the great interest aroused by Cooper's Leatherstocking novels"
(56, 60), it is interesting to note that Simms would create a very different
pair of heroines for his book. Indeed, Simms seems to keep the fair-haired
innocent type embodied in Bess Matthews, but then he allows Mary Granger