The Linwoods, or “Sixty Years Since in America”
Readers of historical and classic fiction should welcome this new edition of an early woman novelist’s most highly-regarded work. A lengthy introduction traces Sedgwick’s life and prolific publication history, her popularity and critical success: Hawthorne and Poe were admirers.
Written in 1835, The Linwoods glances backward sixty years to the American Revolution, focusing on the Tory Linwoods, wealthy New Yorkers, and the Lees of rural Massachusetts, whose son Eliot joins the Rebellion. (A farewell scene with colorful Yankees seeing Eliot off to the War is deliciously funny.) As events force her to examine her role as a marriageable woman, the privileged Isabella Linwood becomes ever more independent in thought and action. Her brother breaks with the family to support the rebel cause. Her suitor, Jasper Meredith, scion of a noble English family, proves his unreliability by trifling with the affections of innocent and adoring Bessie Lee. Eliot Lee, one of Washington’s officers, bravely and repeatedly surfaces in New York, though a wartime romance with Isabella seems unlikely to prosper.
By the novel’s end, the perceptive Isabella has gained wisdom and stature. Sedgwick’s ability to engage a modern reader lies in her presentation of several remarkably independent, heroic females. Insightful, humorous rather than sanctimonious, clever and wryly satiric, this novel deserves rediscovery by mainstream readers and literary scholars alike.