Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 2) >> Sentimental and Liberated Heroines: Bess Matthews and Mary Granger in The Yemassee >> Page 37

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Page 37

Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription pictured as a liminal figure; she is a woman, but she has the spirit of a man. 2
She may have a woman's body, but that exterior is misleading because
within Mary is a "man's spirit." This description of her spirit is reminiscent
of Harrison's comment on Mary's soul being "noble" and "manly." Even
though she is female, she has the strength and experience necessary to fight a
native male on his. own terms. The tree does begin to slip as a result of the
weight of the several Yemassees climbing it, and her attacker is off-balance,
hanging from the window, but Mary holds his arm at such an angle that it
snaps causing him to fall to the ground. While the men fight below and the
women sleep in the next room, she successfully and single-handedly protects
the upper floor of the Block House.
Simms ends his novel with the marriage of Bess and Governor
Craven, while Mary Granger's story is left at the Block House. Bess joins
Craven in Charleston, and he . defeats the native uprising. While the fair
maiden marries her noble suitor, Mary is left in her liminal position in the
wilderness. She is a move toward the "New Woman," and she is left
appropriately at the new frontier. Carlton Smith describes the frontier as "a
space of continuously reforged and renegotiated identity" (8). For Mary
Granger, the frontier serves as a space in which she may renegotiate her
identity. She is a transitional development of the Old World sentimental
heroine toward a more completely independent individual. While male
characters try to shield Bess from the challenges of the new frontier, Mary is
fully immersed in the match point of conflicts that characterize early
America: settlers against the wilderness, settlers against the natives, and
differing gender roles. The amorphous role of the female in the New World
is presented in Mary. She adapts to shifting roles and situations, learns from
"poverty," privation," and "suffering," and becomes stronger and more
experienced as a result (Simms 332). The American frontier is a space that
allows Mary to "continuously reforge and renegotiate [her] identity" (Smith
8). Unlike Bess, who is helpless at the hands of the natives and Chorley,
Mary can take her fate into her own hands and physically fight the enemy.
At the same time, however, that Simms allows Mary her boundary-
shifting abilities, he also places conventional constraints on her character.
For example, Mary cannot give orders to her male cohorts. She must follow
the rules of conversation that prohibit her from directly speaking her mind,
and she accordingly adjusts her own personality. Rather than telling
Grayson exactly how he should protect the Block House, she carefully words
her advice so that he believes he thought of her ideas before she voiced
them. While Bess may censure a gentleman's behavior, she may not give

2 Later in the century, Mina Harker, the New Woman character in Bram Stoker's Dracula
(1897), is described as having a "man's brain — a brain that a man should have were he much
gifted — and woman's heart" (207). Simms's Mary, a woman with a "man's spirit," seems to
anticipate this blend of traditionally feminine and masculine characteristics.