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Patrick Prominski ACF Abstract FY10

"The Problem with Faith: Autism in Hope Leslie"

Conference Name: Midwest Popular Culture Conference

In Katherine Maria Sedgwick’s novel, Hope Leslie, nearly every character mentioned by the author contributes a speaking-role to the novel. Even in seemingly minor characters like Antonio, silence is not a normal trait. However, Hope Leslie’s sister, Faith, appears repeatedly throughout the novel, but rarely speaks. It is her lack of verbal communication, not what she says, that draws attention to her. While the other characters seem to attribute her silence to having been taken captive by Oneco, her silence and demeanor suggest something else. Faith exhibits many of the symptoms of autism, which would more readily define her actions than having been a Native American captive.

Using the DSM-IV-TR, this paper first makes an armchair diagnosis of Faith’s ailment, followed by a discussion of the ramifications of this for both a settler in early America and how the disease functions within Sedgwick’s narrative as an excuse for Faith’s behavior. I also draw on criticism of the body in literature to make the case that the diagnosis, while it hobbles Faith within Colonial society, frees her as a voice against the status quo.