The Action-Adventure Heroine: Rediscovering an American Literary Character, 1697–1895, by Sandra Wilson Smith, provides a comprehensive view of the evolution of a previously under-examined character type in American literature, which Smith names the “action-adventure heroine.” Smith traces her identification of this heroine from seventeenth-century captivity narratives through to late-nineteenth-century Dime Novel heroines and female detectives. Smith’s investigation of the action-adventure heroine addresses a lack in our analysis of gender within dominant American literature and culture, particularly when “Americans have consistently presented assertive, physically strong female figures in their narratives and have celebrated these adventurous heroines” (231). Analyzing two hundred years of American literary culture, Smith demonstrates the evolutionary significance of the action-adventure heroine by establishing the centrality of the figure in the formation of dominant American culture, tropes, and stereotypes.

Smith begins with the captivity narrative (chapter 1). While Mary Rowlandson’s The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682) contains many...

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