The Wide, Wide World


The Wide, Wide World

infobox Book |
name = "The Wide, Wide World"
title_orig =
translator =


image_caption =
author = Susan Warner
illustrator =
editor =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher =
release_date = 1850
english_release_date =
media_type = Print
pages =
isbn =
preceded_by =
followed_by =

The Wide, Wide World is an 1850 novel by Susan Warner, published under the pseudonym Elizabeth Wetherell. It is often acclaimed as America's first bestseller, and has been both heralded and debated since its release as a landmark piece of feminist and Christian literature.

Plot

"The Wide, Wide World" is a work of sentimentalism based on the life of young Ellen Montgomery. The story begins after Ellen’s happy life with her mother has been disrupted by the fact that her mother, because of her illness, must accompany her father to Europe, and that she must leave her home to live with her aunt. Though Ellen tries to act strong for her mother’s sake, she is devastated by the news, and can find solace in nothing.

Eventually the day comes when Ellen must say goodbye to her mother, and travel to her aunt’s in the company of strangers. The strangers Ellen travels with are unkind to her, causing Ellen to run off while aboard the boat they are traveling on. An old man sees Ellen crying and asks her what is wrong, and he tells her to trust in God. He teaches her about being a Christian, as her mother had done, and asks her if she is ready to give her heart to Jesus. After talking with the kind man, Ellen becomes determined to become a true Christian, which gives her strength for the rest of the journey to her aunt’s in Thirwall.

On Ellen’s first night in Thirwall, she learns that her father forgot to send word to her aunt that she was coming, so she receives a ride to her aunt’s house from Mr. Van Brunt. Ellen’s aunt, Fortune Emerson, turns out to be a very different sort of person than her mother. She refuses to let Ellen attend school, and is callous and unkind to Ellen. Ellen hates living with Fortune, though she finds some comfort in the likes of Mr. Van Brunt as well as some other neighbors she befriends.

One day, Ellen finds out that her aunt withheld a letter from Mrs. Montgomery. Ellen becomes upset and runs into the woods crying. In the woods, Ellen meets Alice Humphreys, the daughter of a local minister. She is kind to Ellen and invites her for tea the next day so Ellen can tell Alice all about her troubles so that Alice might help her. Ellen and Alice become fast friends, and Alice decides to adopt Ellen as a sister. She offers to teach Ellen what she is missing by not being allowed to attend school, and also becomes a source of spiritual guidance for Ellen, teaching her to forgive others and trust in the Lord.

Alice and her brother, John, who is away at school much of the time, treat Ellen like family and even invite Ellen to spend Christmas in Ventnor, a nearby town, with them and their friends, the Marshmans. While there, Ellen befriends another Ellen, Ellen Chauncey, and gets to know John Humphreys much better, as he comforts her a number of times when she gets upset after being teased by the other children. Ellen comes to realize, after her stay in Ventnor, that her mother leaving wasn’t all bad, as she has been fortunate enough as to meet Alice and John.

About a year later, Ellen, while in town one day, overhears some ladies in town talking about her, and discovers that her mother has died. Ellen is devastated and turns to Alice and her Bible for comfort, and she learns to bear the loss of her mother with the help of those around her. She stays with Alice and John for a long while after that, until her aunt gets sick and Ellen must return to care for her. Eventually Fortune recovers and Ellen is able to go back to visiting with Alice and the rest of her friends.

After Mr. Van Brunt’s mother dies, it is decided that he and Fortune will marry. Soon after that, while Ellen is visiting Alice, she tells Ellen that she has learned that she is sick, and that she will be “going home” to Heaven before long. She asks Ellen not to be sad for her, but to trust in God. She also asks Ellen to take her place in her household when she is gone, Ellen accepts and goes to live with the Humphreys and take care of Alice as she becomes weaker. After Alice dies, Ellen turns to John for guidance. He takes on her studies, as Alice had taught her before, and he becomes a guiding light for Ellen in all aspects of her life. After a relative of the Humphreys’ dies in England, John must travel overseas to handle the family’s business. Ellen is sad to see John go, but he leaves her a stronger person than he found her.

Nancy visits Ellen one day, bringing with her letters that she has found while cleaning Fortune’s house. The letters are for Ellen from her mother, and express her wish that Ellen would go live with her relatives in Scotland. Ellen does not know what to do after reading this, but eventually she shows the letters to Mr. Humphreys and it is decided that she has to honor her parents wishes, so Ellen is send to Scotland to live with the Lindsey family.

The Lindsey family, comprised of her grandmother, Mrs. Lindsey, her uncle, Mr. Lindsey, and Lady Keith, welcome Ellen into their home. They find Ellen delightful, though they become extremely possessive of her, making her denounce her identity as an American and as a Montgomery. Mr. Lindsey even makes Ellen call him “father” and refers to her as his “own little daughter.” The Lindsey’s also discourage Ellen’s faith, as they don’t see religion as being important to someone Ellen’s age. Ellen finds it hard to live without her daily hours set aside for studying religion, but still tries hard to live by her faith and everything that John and Alice taught her.

Ellen misses John more than anything, and night during a New Year’s Eve party at the Lindsey’s, he shows up and asks for Ellen. The Lindsey’s try to keep John away from Ellen, but prove unsuccessful in the end. John and Ellen share an emotional reunion, and John reminds her to keep her faith, and tells her in a few years she will be able to choose where she lives, and can come back and live with him in America. Ellen introduces John to the Lindsey’s, and surprisingly, they become fond of him. Soon, John returns to America, but not without promising Ellen that they will be together in a short time. In an unpublished chapter at the end of the book, Ellen returns to America a grown woman and married to John.

Characters

Primary Characters:
* Ellen Montgomery is the protagonist of the story. Quite young and naïve at the beginning of the story, Ellen lives a happy life, with her mother as her sole companion and teacher. After being torn away from her mother, Ellen struggles to learn to love God and live a Christian life in the face of adversity.

* Mrs. Montgomery is Ellen’s mother. Plagued with health problems, Mrs. Montgomery finds comfort only in Ellen and in God. Although unable to perform many of the duties of a mother and wife, she does her best to teach Ellen about God and how to be a lady.

* Fortune Emerson is Captain Montgomery’s half-sister, she is stern and unfeeling towards Ellen from the beginning. She refuses to let Ellen attend school and even withholds her mother’s letter from Ellen.

* Alice Humphreys is the kind and gentle daughter of a minister, she becomes Ellen’s companion and spiritual counselor, helping Ellen to find solace in the Lord while living with Aunt Fortune. Eventually Alice becomes sick and dies, but not before teaching Ellen to learn to trust in God.

* John Humphreys is Alice’s brother, who she speaks of often. A handsome and charming young man, he offers to be as a brother to Ellen, as his sister is as a sister to Ellen’s sister. After Alice dies, John becomes Ellen’s guide through the world. He teaches her about how to be a good Christian and a good person.

* The Lindseys are Ellen’s family on her mother’s side. Mrs. Lindsey, Ellen’s grandmother, Lady Keith, Ellen’s aunt, and Mr. Lindsey, Ellen’s uncle, adopt Ellen readily into their home, though they are extremely possessive in their love for her. They make Ellen denounce her identity as an American and as a Montgomery, and they discourage Ellen’s devotion to her faith and to her friends in America.

Secondary Characters

* Captain Montgomery is Ellen’s negligent father who was away from home a lot, and felt little sympathy for his daughter or his wife after forcing them to be separated.

* Mr. Van Brunt is Fortune’s farm hand. He is intimidating at first, though Ellen learns to love him. He feels kindly towards Ellen and in many instances sticks up for Ellen when her Aunt mistreats her.

* Nancy Vawse is a girl who lives not far from Ellen with her Grandmother, she is thought by most to be a bad sort of girl, and though Ellen doesn’t like her at first, Nancy proves to be a better person than she first appears.

* Mrs. Vawse is Nancy’s grandmother, a kindly old lady who lives on the mountain. She teaches Ellen and Alice French and she cares for Ellen after Alice dies and John must return to school.

* Mr. Humphreys is Alice and John’s father, a local minister. He is a quite man who keeps to himself a lot, though Ellen becomes like a daughter to him and comforts him After Alice dies.

* The Marshmans are a family the Humphrey’s are friends with who live in a nearby town. They are kind to Ellen and treat her well while she is with them.

* Ellen Chauncey is a young girl Ellen meets while staying with the Marshman’s. She is one of the few young people that Ellen befriends throughout the book.

* Margery is Alice’s loyal servant, she came with the family from England, she helps Ellen learn how to take Alice’s place in the Humphrey household.

Themes

This book was originally written with the goal of teaching people a Christian lesson, so many of the themes are Christian in nature and aim to show people how a true Christian ought to live his or her life.

* One of themes present in "The Wide, Wide World" is that everything in life, even the bad things, is caused by God and leads to something good, especially in the spiritual sense. Ellen is very sad when she learns that her mother must leave, but reminds herself that the trip will make her mother healthy again. When she goes to the store to try and buy some merino cloth, she meets a salesman who treats her very badly and makes her cry, but as a result she gets to know a generous old gentleman who provides her with certain things for her trip that she might not have gotten otherwise. On the steamboat, the other girls make fun of Ellen and send her crying off to another part of the boat, but through this she met a man who teaches her many things about Christianity. When at the Marshmans’ house, she meets children who give her a hard time with her faith, but her friend Alice and Ellen Chauncey are there for her and comfort her. Through this theme, Susan Warner wanted people to see that God did not send misery upon his children for no reason, but used suffering as a means to bring them closer to Him. Ellen learns this and is better able to cope with problems in her life.

* Another theme present in the novel is that there are always good people present among the bad folks. Mr. Saunders, a cold-hearted clerk, is contrasted with an old gentleman who is very kind to Ellen. Captain Montgomery, a man who doesn't seem to care much for his daughter or her mother, is married to Mrs. Montgomery, a kind woman who loves Ellen with all of her heart. Ellen is forced to travel with Mrs. Dunscombe and her daughters, who find pleasure in mocking Ellen and her less-than-ideal clothes. After leaving them, Ellen meets a young man who spends lots of time with Ellen, teaching her about becoming a Christian and sincerely caring for the little girl. Aunt Fortune, who makes it obvious that Ellen is unwanted at her house, lives close to Mrs. Van Brunt, an older woman who cares for Ellen and acts kindly to her. Ellen meets people at the Marshmans’ Christmas party who give her a hard time on purpose, but she has many friends there as well. This seems to be saying that even though a person might be surrounded with bad people who make everyone around them suffer, there are still many kind people in this world that will offer their help when the time comes. Ellen meets many different kinds of people throughout the story, some of which are annoying and taunt her faith in God, but some who become real friends and shape Ellen’s personality.

* A third theme that is present in this book is that those who desire to grow spiritually will receive the help of God if they honestly have that desire. When talking to her mother before the parting, Ellen is determined to live a perfect, Christian life and be an example for everyone around her. However, as soon as she gets on the boat, she discovers that her heart holds negative feelings towards the people around her. After meeting the Christian man on the boat, she realizes how hard her heart is, and her desire to live a good life is rekindled. She fails at this again, however, when she gets to Aunt Fortune's house, where she directly disobeys her aunt and throws fits when things aren't done to her liking. But she realizes her mistakes and wants to be good, and God sends her a young woman who acts as a spiritual guide for the girl. Through this, Warner was telling people not to give up when they made mistakes, and showing how God comes to those who seek him. Since "The Wide, Wide World" is a Christian book, it aimed to teach readers how seek God and encourage those who didn’t exactly know how to go about doing that, but had a true desire to be closer to Him.

* Another theme seen in the story is that God has an unlimited supply of strength, and is willing to give it to anyone who desires it. Poor Ellen went through just about everything in her life. By the age of 10, she was separated from her mother forever, mistreated at the hands of others, mocked for her faith in God, and forced to move from her homeland. However, instead of whining and complaining she asks God to help her, and she is not left alone in this world. Warner knew that times weren’t easy for everyone, just like today, and wanted people to know that there was an everlasting source of encouragement available at any time of day, anywhere in the world. She uses Ellen as an example, who doesn’t despair but, with God’s help, lives happily after she marries John.

Conflicts

The driving conflict of this story is the separation of Ellen from her mother and the effects of this separation on Ellen, including how she misses the mother who had meant everything to her, how she struggles with being a good Christian, and how she deals with people who don’t care about her.

* Woman vs. SelfAs a work of sentimentalist literature, the conflict created by the story is dealt with almost entirely through the emotional response that Ellen has to the conditions in which she is put in the novel. In this, the main conflicts that Ellen encounters deals with how she can internally deal with each of the emotional problems she is met with in a way that is characteristic of strength and perseverance.

* Woman vs. NatureEllen’s mother leaving for France due to her sickness is the conflict which sets the entire narrative in motion, which occurs at the very start of the story. The first few chapters deal with how Ellen prepares to cope with the separation while simultaneously ensuring that, on the advice of the doctor, she refrains from causing any extra stress or fatigue on her mother. After her departure, Ellen must come to terms with being able to survive without the one person who truly cared for her.

* Woman vs. GodWith her mother’s departure, Ellen finds herself doubting God’s intentions, and struggles with the idea that she must love God despite the hardships he has given her, chiefly being separated from her mother, and attempt to come to terms with the idea that God has separated Ellen from her mother and sent her to her aunt in order to be taught that strong faith in God is the most important aspect in her life, super-ceding her love for her mother.

* Woman vs. SocietyMost of the personal conflicts with other characters are also dealt with in the internal manner, chiefly the struggles Ellen has in dealing with her callous and uncaring Aunt Fortune, who shows no sympathy for Ellen’s sadness in being detached from her mother immediately upon meeting. Aunt Fortunes disregard for the feelings of Ellen leads to most of the external turmoil Ellen faces in the first half of the book, including her indifference to allow Ellen to go to school.

Literary Style

In assessing Warner's style in "The Wide, Wide World", there are three main aspects which created Warner's particular writing style. The first aspect is the time in which the book was written. With Webster furthering the development of the American dialect when he published the first American dictionary in 1828, America was still gaining its own literary voice in 1850 when "The Wide, Wide World" was published.

It is readily apparent from the first page that this novel's style is archaic with lines such as "Driven thus to her own resources, Ellen betook herself to the window and sought amusement there." Baym, Nina. Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-1870. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978.]

The next aspect of Warner's style is that "The Wide, Wide World" is also a didactic piece. Warner’s style was aimed at giving an accurate portrayal of the social limitations imposed upon nineteenth-century women, and aimed at promoting the benefits of Christian morality. "The Wide, Wide World" was republished in 1987 by the Feminist Press, showing the claims it holds to furthering gender equality. And one can see that Warner’s style was aimed at promoting Christian morals because one of the main themes of this novel is about finding strength in religious devotion.

"The Wide, Wide World" is a paradigm of sentimentalist literature. The conflict and action of this story is largely introverted within the protagonist Ellen. The lines “Dressing was sad work to Ellen today; it went on very heavily. Tears dropped into the water as she stooped her head to the basin,” are within a four page stretch within which Ellen cries on five separate occasions, displaying how sentimental Warner’s style was.

Along with being a piece of sentimentalist literature the work is considered an example of the domestic novel. "The Wide, Wide World" adheres to the basic plot of most women’s fiction novels of the time, which, as Nina Baym describes the genre in "Woman's Fiction", involves "the story of a young girl who is deprived of the supports she had rightly or wrongly depended on to sustain her throughout life and is faced with the necessity of winning her own way in the world.”

History

"The Wide, Wide World" is an exemplary piece of American literature as it represents many of the themes and patterns prevalent in the 1850s."Published at the end of 1850, "The Wide, Wide World" by Susan Warner went through fourteen editions in two years, and may ultimately have been as popular as "Uncle Tom's Cabin" with 19th century American readers".Cite web|url=http://www.iath.virginia.edu/utc/sentimnt/wwwhp.html|title= Warner's Wide, Wide World|accessdate=2007-06-08|publisher=Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture|work=Comment and excerpt]

Although it was first rejected by many publishers, Warner's first novel became an instant sensation among its readers. The novel paints an excellent picture of the Victorian era of the United States, and so the readers of the time appreciated its relevancy to their own lives.

Pushing Christian values and themes, "The Wide, Wide World" was a guide to young ladies of the time who were encouraged to have submissive and humble attitudes towards their elders, especially men. The novel also portrayed a part of the author's own life: While Ellen's mother died when Ellen was young, Warner's mother had died when Warner was only nine years old. Warner then went to live with her aunt, who was much kinder than Ellen's aunt Fortune in the book."The Wide, Wide World, Susan Warner: INTRODUCTION." Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Russel Whitaker. Vol. 146. Thomson Gale, 2005. eNotes.com. 2006. 8 Jun, 2007 ]

While Warner's book was widely popular for many years, readers lost some interest for quite some time. In 1987, the Feminist Press published a new edition, including the concluding chapter which had been left out by the previous publishers [2] . Now, the book holds relevance to a contemporary audience when viewed with an understanding of the era in which it was published. We can appreciate the ideals and values that Warner detailed in her book as well as learning more about life in early America.

Notes

References

Baym, Nina. "Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America", 1820-1870. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978.

External links

* [http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/UFDC/?b=UF00002163&v=00001 "The Wide, Wide World" volume one] and [http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/UFDC/?b=UF00002163&v=00002 volume two] available via Open Access with page images and full, searchable text through the [http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/UFDC/ University of Florida Digital Collections]
*Cite web|url=http://www.iath.virginia.edu/utc/sentimnt/wwwhp.html|title= Warner's Wide, Wide World|accessdate=2007-06-08|publisher=University of Virginia's multi-media archive: "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and American Culture|work=Comment and excerpt
* [http://www.enotes.com/nineteenth-century-criticism/wide-wide-world-susan-warner "The Wide, Wide World" on E-Notes]


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