Novel identities: Catharine Maria Sedgwick's hope Leslie as a mentoring framework for curriculum studies and life journeys.

AuthorMcMillan, Sally

The whole idea of the journey is basic to humanity ... [but] the really significant journey is the interior journey. (DeWaal, 1998)

Prevalent in both archetypal and religious literature, the journey motif weaves its way through tales of human growth--stories which grapple with the processes of how people come to be and to know. Such images of identity formation and knowledge construction hold significant implications for the field of education. As Huebner (1993) suggests, "the question educators need to ask is not how people learn and develop, but what gets in the way of the great journey--the journey of the self or soul." Huebner is not saying that knowledge of human development is without importance, but instead he is asking educational scholars to be willing to look at knowledge construction through a more contextualized and holistic lens-to risk an exploration of students' journeys from alternative standpoints. His statement demands much from the educational community, in that it calls for an enormous paradigm shift.

Accustomed to a cultural environment with a reductionist tendency to describe education in terms of attaining and measuring de-contextualized skills, the journey metaphor requires us to look at learning through a "new" lens, in which knowing becomes something that is inextricably linked to our unfolding life contexts. Exploring the problems and possibilities inherent to such a paradigm shift makes it necessary for educators to revisit questions regarding the nature of educational research. What does education "as a means of caring for the journey" look like? And in what ways might it be implemented within pedagogy and research?

In our own lives, we have discovered that examining specific life stories--both on an individual basis and communally with students--often provides important clues concerning the ways in which people learn, in which they have traveled through obstacles within their unique journeys of "the self or soul." In particular, narrative examinations have proved helpful at a multiplicity of levels in terms of exploring the identity formation and knowledge construction of forgotten or marginalized people. As Pinar (1993) explains:

We are what we know. We are, however, also what we do not know. If what we know about ourselves--our history, our culture, our national identity--is deformed by absences, denials, incompleteness, then our identity-both as individuals and as Americans is fragmented.. (p. 61) When viewed from this standpoint, locating forgotten journeys moves beyond an act of altruism or of social justice (as important as such motivations are) to one of educational necessity. When another's story is missing from collective American lore, then my own story--both individually and communally--is also incomplete.

If examining life journeys is regarded as a necessary part of educational scholarship, then it follows that pervasive assumptions concerning which narrative formats are appropriate sources for educational research should be re-examined and replaced by more expansive notions (Gilbert, 1994). It also follows that as researchers seek new narrative spaces from which to explore and uncover marginalized journeys and ways of knowing, that we must also seek narrative sources that provide us with potential guideposts or mentoring clues for locating "new" ideas with the potential to inform current curriculum theory. One such neglected, yet promising narrative research genre for the education field is that of 19th-century American women's novels.

Therefore, our purposes for writing this paper are two-fold. Firstly, we will demonstrate the viability of exploring a "new" source for curriculum studies research, that of 19th-century women's novels. And we will do so, for the most part, through the context of the now marginalized, but once highly acclaimed 19th-century novelist, Catharine Maria Sedgwick. Secondly, it is our purpose to describe some of the specific contributions that Sedgwick's life and most popular novel, Hope Leslie, or Early Times in the Massachusetts (Sedgwick, 1827), can offer to the field of curriculum studies. In particular, we will demonstrate how she used her novel as a creative space from which to mentor herself and others towards constructing life journeys that both exhibited and promoted the construction of counter cultural knowledge.

Due to the fact that we will contextualize the majority of our discussion within Sedgwick's life and novel, Hope Leslie, we will provide a short biography of Sedgwick's life. Following this description, we will utilize the specificity of Sedgwick's life and novel as a framework from which to discuss the notion that many 19th-century women writers used the novel format as a vehicle for "safely" voicing their views on culture and education and for unpacking alternative life journey patterns. A discussion demonstrating how she used her novel as a creative space from which to mentor herself and others towards constructing life journeys and views towards counter cultural knowledge construction will follow. In addition, we will tease out her views (or potential curriculum theory) concerning the roles that the imagination and sacrificial love can play within knowledge construction and her use of the imagination to diffuse false dichotomies within human thought and culture. After discussing some of Sedgwick's novel contributions to the field of curriculum studies, we will explore some of the ways in which ideas drawn from Hope Leslie can inform today's schooling contexts. However, we will first provide an overview of the methodology we employed within this research.


The lens through which we gathered and analyzed data from Sedgwick's novel was built around Sally's (author one) understanding of a narrative strategy that was utilized by many 19th-century women writers. In Palimpsest: (Re)Reading Women's Lives, Jacobs, Munro, & Adams (1995) label and describe this once pervasive strategy through their construction of a metaphor, palimpsest, which is a term they borrow from art and literary history. An understanding of the literal meaning of palimpsest provides insight regarding a way that many early women writers explored and expressed their conflicted identities and ways of knowing. Palimpsest was known as a wax covered manuscript page that has been written on, scraped off, and written on again (Merriam-Webster, 2001). Although surface level words are clearly evident to readers, there remain behind those words the faint indentations of the scraped, original words. A type of "double voicedness" is present; a...

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