Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 2) >> Sentimental and Liberated Heroines: Bess Matthews and Mary Granger in The Yemassee >> Page 32

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Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription Bess chides her third admirer, Hugh Grayson, as well as Harrison
and Chorley. She seems to be a moral compass among the male characters,
whether they ignore her, like Chorley, or they take her advice into
consideration, like Harrison and the younger Grayson. Hugh Grayson's love
of Bess is an immature infatuation that is not returned. As a result of
unrequited love, his passionate anger threatens violence to Bess's
sensibilities and to Harrison's person. During one of his heated interviews
with Bess, she dresses him down severely for taking liberties with her and
for spying on her and Harrison in the forest. She forces him to view his own
character, one twisted by passion:
Yet you studiously practise upon my affections and emotions — upon my woman
weaknesses. You saw that I loved another — I shame not to say it, for I believe and
feel it — and you watched me like a spy. You had there no regulating principle
keeping down impulse, but with the caprice of a bad passion, consenting to a
meanness, which is subject to punishment in our very slaves. Should I trust the man
who, under any circumstances save those of another's good and safety, should
deserve the epithet of eavesdropper? (305)
In this passage, Bess attacks Hugh's very manhood, equating him with a
slave who deserves punishment, and she accuses him of an egregious lack of
self-control. When it comes to identifying and scorning immorality, Bess is
a strong female character. She follows high principles in her own life and
insists upon them in others' lives as well. After this interview, Hugh
becomes one of Harrison's "Green Jackets" and "strives to forget the
feelings of the jealous and disappointed lover, in the lately recollected duties
of the man and citizen" (340). The narrator notes, "The stern severity of
those rebukes which had fallen from the lips of Bess Matthews, had the
effect upon him which she anticipated. They brought out the serious
determination of his manhood" (340).
Although Bess has impeccable character, she is frail and
experiences her "woman weaknesses" when she encounters the primal forest
surrounding her home (305). The Matthews's family home sits on an
isthmus, physically set apart from the surrounding wilderness, and it is
separate in appearance as well: "The site had been felicitously chosen, and
the pains taken with it had sufficiently improved the rude location to show
how much may be effected by art, when employed in arranging the toilet,
and in decorating the wild beauties of her country cousin" (44). In order to
build the cottage, the forest had to be tamed and decorated as a woman might
do to her appearance. Instead of wilderness, the home looks out on the river,
the transportation highway of the settlement, and is pleasantly shaded by
"sheltering groves."
When Bess leaves this postage-stamp of tamed nature to meet
Harrison, the accomplished woodsman and Indian fighter, in the large oak
grove on the skirts of the forest, she finds danger. Bess is described as a
"thing of the forest," but she places her own emotions. upon nature around
her without fully paying heed to the realities (151). In daydreams of her