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John Davis, Captain Smith and Pocahontas (1805)

Gaelyn Rosenberg

In Davis's hands the rescue is an act of love. Smith is the ultimate "hunk," the total package. He's tall, graceful, commanding -- a Belvedere Apollo -- the ideal man, every woman's dream. The astonished Indian women, mad with lust, can only gaze with "speechless wonder" and "dumb admiration" at this model man. And Pocahontas, young and "tender" and "sweet" but with deliciously "cherub lips," lustrously "luxuriant tresses," "comely neck," and a "bosom just beginning to fill," is at this precise moment in her life looking for love -- "an object on whom to fix her affections." And what better object than Smith, on whom the mournfully distracted princess throws her sexually maturing body to fend off the raised arms of the executioners. Pocahontas's sacrificial courage, then, is merely a subset of her "love" for Smith. Love, that is, in quotation marks. For this young woman with a "vacancy of heart" conveniently filled by Smith for a time quickly and ardently finds another tenant for her grieving heart later at Smith's purported grave. "O pliable tenderness of lovely woman," Davis croons as Pocahontas sinks into the arms of the rapturous Rolfe, "no longer did the bosom of the young princess sigh over the ashes of Smith." So this rescue is the act of a love-struck young woman. And the act, no doubt, of a love-struck author as well. For the overtly sensual descriptions of Pocahontas reveal no small authorial fantasizing in operation, a longing only mildly qualified by the "tribute to [Pocahontas's] humanity" in the address to the now angelic "Fair Spirit" with which this first major novelistic rendition of the rescue scene concludes.