Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 2) >> Sentimental and Liberated Heroines: Bess Matthews and Mary Granger in The Yemassee >> Page 31

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Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription the latitude to transcend the typical dark-haired, doomed heroine of "wordly
experience" (Carpenter 255).
Bess, the Reverend Matthews's daughter, is the romantic heroine.
She is the love interest of Gabriel Harrison, the adventurous leader of the
"Green Jackets" and defender of the settlement against the restive
Yernassees. When the reader first meets her, she is "A bright pair of eyes,
and a laughing, young, even girlish face" {Simms 45). As Harrison notices
her peering eyes, his demeanor changes sharply from worry over the
threatened Yemassee attack to one of a "playful, wild, thoughtless, and
gentle-natured being" (45). When Harrison is with Bess he calls her playful
nicknames and emphasizes her rare beauty: "still the same, my beauty; still
the laughing, the lovely, the star-eyed" (45). Bess, on the other hand, is
hyper-aware of decorous behavior, warning Harrison not to call her
nicknames and telling him that he "makes quite too free" with her (47).
Bess's beauty also attracts the attention of Richard Chorley, the
pirate working as liaison between the rebellious Yemassee chiefs and the
Spanish. Chorley attempts to charm her with tales of his adventures in the
West Indies, but to no avail. Unlike Cooper's Cora, Simms's Bess will have
no connection to the West Indies, even through storytelling. Simms
highlights the difference between the fair and good young lady and the
swarthy, quick-tempered pirate: "Bessy did not, it is true, incline the ear after
the manner of Desdemona to her Blackamoor" (110). Clearly, Bess is a pure
beauty like Desdemona, but although she is interested in the tales of far-
away locales, she is far from accepting Chorley's advances. She rejects his
trinket with "a lofty air... and resented the impertinent familiarity of his
offer" (111). She is waiting for her father's approval of her chosen lover,
Harrison, a man who, unbeknownst to Bess and her family, is actually
Charles Craven, the governor, in disguise. Chorley, the avowed villain of
the novel, accuses Bess's father of having "made your daughter as great a
saint as yourself' (111).
Bess is more than fair and -beautiful. Her character is
unimpeachable, and she is "sweet" and "dutiful" (46). Even though she
disagrees with her Puritan father's low estimation of Harrison, she remains a
faithful daughter: "But he loves me; and that's enough to make me respect
his opinions, and to love him, in spite of them" (47). In addition to his high
esteem for Bess's beauty, Harrison admires her grace and poise and claims
that her nature truly makes him better through association: "Let me be at the
wildest -- the waywardest – as full of irregular impulse as I may be, and your
name, and the thought of you, bring me back to myself, bind me down, and
take all willfulness from my spirit" (48). In this portion of a longer, ardently
soaring sentimental speech, Harrison praises Bess's ability to mold his
wayward spirit into one that is more tranquil.