These letters can give us fresh perspective, then, on sentimental novels, ordinary readers, and fandom in the nineteenth century—and they do so by recording the varied ways that some ordinary readers and a sentimental author were brought together by loving The Wide, Wide World.The idea that readers simply couldn't put novels down implied that they should, or at least that they should be able to—and the fear that they could not accounted for some of the suspicion felt toward this relatively new literary genre. The closing scene was very like that of Alice; and she too, died at midsummer, and at midnight! Other readers began their fan letters by arguing that they couldn't help but write: one simply could not refrain from offering her thanks, another wrote that "impulse has overcome all prudence," still another called "the desire to write … too strong to be resisted. Not all of Warner's fans were as fraught as Darrach or as earnest as Hunter, nor are all of them so complimentary or adulatory. The more than sixty surviving fan letters written to Susan Warner and her younger sister Anna, who was also a writer, are quite soggy, rife with descriptions of tears, whimpers, and weeping. Princeton, N. And Ellen's author-creator, absenting herself at first under a pen name and professing in journal entries and letters her struggle to let God's voice cover her own in the project of writing, tries to perform and preach an authorial version of the selfless submission required by her Protestant faith—the "New School" form of Presbyterianism that valued the conversion of a prostrated heart over the careful adherence to doctrine taught by the "Old School. Many readers described how Warner's books kept a hold on them long after they put them down: readers wrote anywhere from a few minutes to twenty-four years after reading The Wide, Wide World and often described multiple re-readings, with one reader writing that she'd read it three times alone and three times aloud in less than a year. In terms of personal material gain, Warner's enthralling first novel was not as brilliant a success as its sales figures imply, largely because the deficiency of international copyright laws meant publishers outside the United States could pirate the text without sharing a cent of profit with its author; in a representative instance, Warner's second novel, Queechy , would reportedly sell ten thousand copies at one English train station, with no return to the woman who labored to create it. Susan Warner's fan mail demonstrates that, for these readers, the experience of reading sentimental fiction—alone or otherwise—helped to build connections, however much those connections remained in readers' imaginations. Putnam if there was "a sequel to that most interesting and affecting book, The Wide, Wide World" either already published or forthcoming. The Wide, Wide World is therefore just one kind of sentimental fiction that Warner's fans embraced; another is that the author of a sentimental novel, who told familiar stories and knew so well what would bring her readers to tears, understood her readers—that a strong and even life-changing connection was formed between author and reader through the medium of a bestselling novel.
He took exception to Warner's unfavorable descriptions of the heroine Ellen Montgomery's Scottish relatives, for he himself was a "Scotchman"; referred by page and volume to one of his favorite scenes; confessed that he could not read the words describing the death of the beloved character Alice Humphreys for the tears that interrupted his sight; and jokingly described his frustrated matrimonial intentions for Alice, who is not only dead, but also, alas, fictional.
Alice's Admirer, by way of introduction, said he just couldn't help expressing the great pleasure he felt in reading The Wide, Wide World.
That expectation differed sharply from the attitude toward earlier American authors—mostly genteel, anonymous, and male.
Between these points of domestic departure and arrival, Warner unfolds a tale of orphanhood and female maturation—a variant of bildungsroman broadly, a novel of character development that Nina Baym, one of several scholars responsible for bringing this novel to the attention of late-twentieth-century readers, describes as typical of the "overplot" common to the nineteenth-century genre she names "woman's fiction.
Warner's distance from them—geographical and otherwise—paradoxically made possible the intimacy of their fan letters and the connections they imagined: these letters could cross distances in ways that their writers most likely could not.
This giddy story of unlooked-for success is not unlike many in the modern literary marketplace, and in fact The Wide, Wide World quickly won enough cultural currency to invite exploitation by advertisers in familiar ways familiar—"In the 'Wide, Wide World' cannot be found better undergarments and hosiery than at James E.
Of all the forms of connection Warner experienced through writing her novel and reading her fan letters, it is this one, that of her readers to God, rather than between herself and individual readers, that appears to have given Warner the greatest satisfaction.
Necessity was certainly a motivating factor, and as Mary Kelley observes, the economic straits that brought Warner and other "literary domestics" to write for a living testify to the breakdown of masculine responsibility, the failure of fathers and husbands to fulfill the roles assigned them in the sphere of money making.
Thankfully, some of those fans wrote letters to Warner, and some of those letters survive.
Schnog, Nancy. Her first publication was "Robinson Crusoe's Farmyard", a natural history game for children. New York: Oxford University Press, He assumed that a sequel would be forthcoming—"of course we are to have a sequel" —and requested that Warner not use such locutions as "'the far corner'" and "'the far end'" in it, adding a willingness to correct Warner's grammar to his already considerable charms.Several of the sections that Warner cut comprised an early episode about a character she refers to as a "little black girl. Canniness about the marketplace wraps itself up in sincere religious feeling here: as Susan Williams's study of Warner's manuscript revisions suggests, the author likely fine-tuned her text to a sense of what was selling best, editing out worldly tales of river-boat peril along with, perhaps, the fantasy conclusion though Warner's part in this decision is unclear and bringing forward the passages of sentimental godliness her projected audience seemed to want most. I fell on my knees and tears and prayers and strong crying to God for pardon and salvation testified of the nature of the effect produced; it was the being born again, the beginning of life everlasting. There were also many readers not represented in this archive for whom the point of reading novels like The Wide, Wide World was surely escape and not connection. Though readers made such personal confessions, they were still unknown readers writing to an unknown author, with little chance of ever meeting that author face-to-face. Jana Lea Argersinger Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. Barnes, Elizabeth.
Their letters tell Warner, and us, how.