Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 2) >> Sentimental and Liberated Heroines: Bess Matthews and Mary Granger in The Yemassee >> Page 34

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 34

Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription first appears, she is nameless except for the title: "the wife of Granger" (98).
Her husband is a white trader who lives among the Yemassees in their
primary town, Pocota-ligo. Even though she is married according to
convention, Mary is immersed in the wilderness and its inhabitants. She is a
more liberated woman than Bess. She is independent, and she often inserts
herself into the counsels of male characters. She welcomes dangerous
encounters and is a skilled fighter. Mary seems to be a liminal character,
embodying masculine and feminine characteristics, and she can be read as an
antecedent to the later nineteenth century's "New Woman." This "New
Woman" was also described as "the Odd Woman, the Wild Woman, and the
Superfluous Woman in English novels and periodicals of the 1880s and
1890s" (Ardis 1). She committed "transgressions against the sex, gender,
and class distinctions of Victorian England" (1). Simms's Mary Granger
certainly transgresses the boundaries between masculine and feminine
spheres of influence, but she couches her "oddness" in the conventions of
her time, creating a meld between the two spheres. Unlike Bess, Mary is
capable of functioning both in the domestic sphere, as a wife, and in the
masculine sphere, as an advisor and fighter.
Mrs. Granger's appearance is the opposite of Bess's girlish, maiden
purity. Whenever she is described, her masculine features are emphasized.
For example, when she first appears during the failed treaty scene, she is a
"tall, fine looking woman, of much masculine beauty" (Simms 98). Later,
Simms more fully limns her physical appearance thus:
She was a tall, masculine, and well-made woman; of a sanguine complexion, with
deeply sunken, dark eyes, hair black as a coal and cut short like that of a man. There
was a stem something in her glance which repelled; and though gentle and even
humble in her usual speech, there were moments when her tone was that of reckless
defiance, and when her manner was any thing but conciliatory. (139)
In addition to her short hair and "masculine beauty," Mary has an imposing
character. She is defiant whereas Bess is docile with Harrison, and as Bess
attracts all who see her, Mary has a glance that can repel. Although she is a
dutiful wife and functions in the domestic sphere, providing meals and
working at tasks with the other women in the Block House, she commands
the respect of others, both male and female, "in a sphere of life to which
respect, or in a very moderate degree, is not often conceded" (139).
This strength of Mary's character comes to the fore when she saves
the lives of the English treaty delegation. Because they do not wish to give
up more land, the Yemassee people, under Sanutee, hold Sir Edmund
Bellinger and his delegation hostage on condition that he release the treaty so
that the natives can destroy it. Mary takes it upon herself to surrender the
treaty. Bellinger angrily reproaches her, but she calmly replies: "My life is
precious to me, Sir, though you may be regardless of yours. The treaty is
nothing now to the Yemassees, who have destroyed their chiefs on account
of it. To have kept it would have done no good, but must have been


34