Remembering Resistance and Resilience: The Revolutionary Sibling Romances of Sedgwick, Simms, and Kennedy

  • Emily E. VanDette


The salience of sibling love to the American literary imagination and to dialogues of American nationalism would manifest in the era that marks both the first flourishing of those histories and the first large-scale jeopardy to the national union. In 1835, as the Nullification controversy, arguably the forerunner to the Civil War, was at its peak, at least three different novels published in the United States developed their romantic plots within Revolutionary War settings. Catharine Maria Sedgwick, William Gilmore Simms, and John Pendleton Kennedy, all supporters of the Union at the time of the Nullification crisis, employed significant sibling pairs in their representations of the Revolutionary War. Adopting the historical fiction genre popularized by Sir Walter Scott and, following Scott’s example, American frontier novels,1 Sedgwick, Kennedy, and Simms give sibling love the spotlight in their Revolutionary romances, and their sibling depictions resonate compellingly with contemporary debates over loyalty, unity, and individual rights. The novels’ opposite-sex sibling couples, more developed and central than the courting couples in the novels (or, in the case of a quasi-sibling pair in Simms’s novel, actually furnishing the courting couple), reveal complicated political responses to the possibility of South Carolina’s secession from the Union. More broadly, they experiment with the potential and limitations of lateral dynamics, loyalties, and obligations between siblings and states, as well as among the hierarchies of paternal and national governance.


National Union Patriarchal Authority Republican Citizen Patriarchal Order Family Metaphor 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    For classic critical attention to Scott’s influence on American fiction, see Lawrence Buell, New England Literary Culture, from Revolution through Renaissance (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. and George Dekker, The American Historical Romance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    For recent work on Scott’s own relationship to national history, see Katie Trumpener’s Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Disrupting the historical tendency to read nationalism as a static and stable construct in the nineteenth century, Robert S. Levine has highlighted key literary interventions in white American nationalism, exposing the limitations of historical perspectives that too strictly define the relationship between race and nation, North and South, regionalism and sectionalism. See Robert S. Levine, Dislocating Race and Nation: Episodes in Nineteenth-Century American Literary Nationalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Richard E. Ellis, The Union at Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States’ Rights, and the Nullification Crisis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 12.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    William Freehling, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1818–1836 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). Freehling explains the “Great Reaction” to Nullification in the years just following its political resolution, when South Carolina planters increased their vigilant defense of slavery and enforced test oaths to secure Unionist’s loyalty to the state (301–339). Clearly, while the compromise of 1833 resolved the Nullification issue in legislative terms, the cultural anxiety over conflicting allegiances was heightened as a result of the controversy.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Quoted in William Freehling, The Nullification Era: A Documentary Record (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) 54.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    See James Brewer Stewart, “‘A Great Talking and Eating Machine’: Patriarchy, Mobilization and the Dynamics of Nullification in South Carolina,” Civil War History 27.3 (1981): 197–220. Stewart points out that the leaders of the Nullification movement were conscious of “the fundamental importance of family relationships in structuring South Carolina’s politics and social arrangements” (200).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 13.
    In addition to Stewart, other studies that have established the paternalistic culture of slavery include Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981);Google Scholar
  10. Eugene Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974);Google Scholar
  11. and Herbert Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and in Freedom (New York: Pantheon Books, 1976).Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Several scholars have noted the nationalistic strain running through much of Sedgwick’s writing. In her introduction to Sedgwick’s short story, “Cacoethes Scribendi” in Provisions: A Reader from 19th-Century American Women” (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986: 41–49), Judith Fetterley explains that Sedgwick “grew up in an atmosphere pervaded by politics and informed by a commitment to translating political beliefs into public acts” and that her works “reflect her profound belief in the American democratic experiment and her deep commitment to devoting her talents, as her father did before her, to the service of her country” (41, 44). For a rich discussion of Sedgwick’s nationalism in her personal and authorial contexts, see Mary Kelly, “Negotiating a Self: The Autobiography and Journals of Catharine Maria Sedgwick,” New England Quarterly 66 (Sept, 1993): 366–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Also, scholars have paid particular attention to the role of national politics in Hope Leslie: see Maria Karafilis, “Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie: The Crisis between Political Action and US Literary Nationalism in the New Republic,” American Transcendental Quarterly 12 (Dec, 1998): 327–344;Google Scholar
  14. T. Gregory Garvey, Gregory. “Risking Reprisal: Catherine Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie and the Legitimation of Public Action by Women,” American Transcendental Quarterly 8 (Dec, 1994): 287–298;Google Scholar
  15. Susan Harris, “The Limits of Authority: Catharine Maria Sedgwick and the Politics of Resistance,” in Catharine Maria Sedgwick: Critical Perspectives, edited by Lucinda Damon-Bach and Victoria Clements (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2003: 272–285).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    While Sedgwick’s nationalism has been a predominant premise of most critical discussions, Philip Gould makes an interesting corrective in his reading of the novelist’s transnational engagement in The Linwoods, which, he asserts, promotes a “spirit of the enlightened cosmopolitan…urging her readers to think national and transatlantic terms simultaneously” (258). See Philip Gould, “Catharine Sedgwick’s Cosmopolitan Nation,” New England Quarterly 78 (2005): 232–258.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Catharine Maria Sedgwick, The Linwoods; or, “Sixty Years Since” in America, edited by Maria Karafilis (Hanover: University Press of New England, 2002), xv.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    See Jay Fliegelman, Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution against Patriarchal Authority, 1750–1800 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 57–58.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    See C. Dallett Hemphill, Siblings: Brothers and Sisters in American History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 108. Also, in her autobiography Sedgwick admits that her older brother, Robert, was especially important to her: “I looked…upon my favorite brother as my preserver. He was more than any other my protector and companion. Charles was as near my own age, but he was younger, and a feeling of dependence—of most loving dependence—on Robert began then, which lasted through his life.”Google Scholar
  20. Catharine Maria Sedgwick, The Power of Her Sympathy: The Autobiography and Journal of Catherine Maria Sedgwick, edited by Mary Kelley (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1993), 72. Not only were Sedgwick’s brothers protective in the sense prescribed by the domestic advice literature, but they were also, according to Sedgwick, loving and supportive, and they directly impacted her literary career. As Mary Kelley notes in her introduction to Sedgwick’s The Power of Her Sympathy, Sedgwick’s brothers “encouraged the initially reluctant author, applauded the novels and stories, and negotiated with the publishers” (29). The close bonds between brothers and sisters in The Linwoods echo Sedgwick’s own sentiments from her autobiography, where she says, “I can conceive of no truer image of the purity and happiness of the equal loves of Heaven than that which unites brothers and sisters” (89).Google Scholar
  21. 22.
    Southern Literary Messenger, 1.5 (May 1835), 522. Kennedy’s biographer notes that his reputation was just as acclaimed in northern presses as it was in the South, pointing out that the New England Magazine, the Knickerbocker, and the American Quarterly Review all received Horse-Shoe Robinson warmly and ranked Kennedy with James Fenimore Cooper. See Charles H. Bohner, John Pendleton Kennedy: Gentleman from Baltimore (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1961), 97.Google Scholar
  22. 23.
    Charles H. Brichford makes this interpretive claim in a rare example of critical treatment of Horse-Shoe Robinson. According to Brichford, especially when it is compared alongside Simms’s The Partisan, Kennedy’s novel presents a “surprisingly non-partisan and realistic portrayal of the Revolution.” Charles H. Brichford, “That National Story: Conflicting Versions and Conflicting Visions of the Revolution in Kennedy’s Horse-Shoe Robinson and Simms’s The Partisan,” Southern Literary Journal 21.1 (Fall 1988): 64–85, 26. For a classic reading of this effect of incest, see Peter L. Thorslev, Jr. “Incest as Romantic Symbol,” Comparative Literature Studies 2.1 (1965): 41–58. Thorslev interprets Percy Shelley’s portrayal of incest as signifying a “sense of the past as being parasitic upon the future; of fathers, authorities; institutions, and traditions having outlived their usefulness, but being unwilling to grow old gracefully and wither away and even attempting grotesquely to renew their youth by devouring their youth or reproducing upon them” (49).Google Scholar
  23. 28.
    While Simms would attain some political success, eventually being elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1844, his notoriety mostly came from his prolific and popular fiction output. James Perrin Warren notes that “More important than his political ambition is Simms’s position as the leading man of letters in the antebellum South,” and that he achieves status as a “figure of cultural authority.” James Perrin Warren, Culture of Eloquence: Oratory and Reform in Antebellum America (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 141.Google Scholar
  24. 29.
    J. Quitman Moore, “William Gilmore Simms,” DeBow’s Review 29.6 (Dec. 1860): 702–712, 708.Google Scholar
  25. 30.
    For a detailed account of the development of Simms’s political views, see Jon L. Wakelyn, The Politics of a Literary Man: William Gilmore Simms (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1973).Google Scholar
  26. 32.
    C. Hugh Holman points out that The Partisan reflects Simms’s investment in both “movements for a national and for a distinctively Southern literature between 1830 and 1860” (445). Simms, like most antebellum writers, believed that sectionalism/regionalism supported the larger body of national literature. C. Hugh Holman, “William Gilmore Simms’ Picture of the Revolution as Civil Conflict,” The Journal of Southern History 15.4 (Nov. 1949), 441–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 33.
    The crisis of Walton’s oath of loyalty to the British anticipates what Elizabeth Duquette has established as the cultural encoding of coercive loyalty during and after the Civil War, signified by the emergence of “test oaths” that would require Confederates to swear their loyalty to the nation and by such historically enduring texts as the Pledge of Allegiance. See Elizabeth Duquette, Loyal Subjects: Bonds of Nation, Race, and Allegiance in Nineteenth-Century America (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2010). Freehling locates the test oath controversy during the Nullification crisis, and especially during the backlash period following the compromise, when Southern Unionists were compelled to testify their loyalty to the South; see 263, 268–270, 171, 309–322. The novel’s emphasis on this Revolutionary character’s repudiation of his oath of loyalty further reveals Simms’s rhetorical sensitivity to the complicated nuances of loyalty and nationalism in the Nullificationera South.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Emily E. VanDette 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily E. VanDette

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations