Red cloth binding with gilt title plate on the spine. Blue and green design on the front board.
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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.
“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”. 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. (Jo March reads the book in Little Women.)
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 nine years old. Warner then went to live with her aunt, who was much kinder than Ellen’s Aunt Fortune.
In 1987, the Feminist Press published a new edition, including the concluding chapter which had been left out by the previous publishers.
The Wide, Wide World is a work of sentimentalism about the life of young Ellen Montgomery. The story begins with Ellen’s happy life being disrupted by the fact that her mother is very ill, and her father must take her to Europe, requiring Ellen to leave home to live with an almost-unknown aunt. Though Ellen tries to act strong for her mother’s sake, she is devastated and can find solace in nothing.
Eventually the day comes when Ellen must say goodbye to her mother and travel in the company of strangers to her aunt’s home. Unfortunately, these strangers are unkind to Ellen, and she tries to leave the boat on which they are traveling. An old man sees Ellen crying and 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 man, Ellen becomes determined to become a true Christian, which gives her strength for the rest of the journey to her aunt’s place in Thirwall.
On Ellen’s first night in Thirwall, she learns that her father forgot to inform her aunt that she was coming, so a “Mr. Van Brunt” escorts her to her aunt’s home. This aunt, Fortune Emerson, proves to be quite different from Ellen’s loving mother: she treats Ellen unkindly and refuses to let her attend school. Ellen hates living with Fortune and comes to find comfort in the society of Mr. Van Brunt and other neighbors as she becomes more familiar with her new surroundings.
One day, discovering that her aunt withheld a letter from Mrs. Montgomery, Ellen runs crying into the woods. There she meets Alice Humphreys, the daughter of a local minister. Alice is kind to Ellen and invites her to tea the next day, to give Ellen a chance to tell her troubles; maybe Alice would be able to help. The girls become fast friends and Alice adopts Ellen as a sister, offering to educate her and guide her spiritually, 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, even inviting her to spend Christmas in the nearby town of Ventnor with them and their friends, the Marshmans. While there, Ellen meets another Ellen, Ellen Chauncey. She also gets better acquainted with John Humphreys, who comforts her many times after the other children tease her. Ellen comes to realize that if she hadn’t needed to be separated from her mother, she might never have met Alice and John.
About a year later, one day when Ellen visits town, she overhears from some ladies’ conversation that her mother has died. Devastated, she turns to Alice and her Bible for comfort. She stays with Alice and John until Aunt Fortune becomes ill and Ellen must look after her. Eventually Aunt Fortune recovers and Ellen returns to Alice and her other friends.
After Mr. Van Brunt’s mother dies, he decides to marry Aunt Fortune; soon after, Alice tells Ellen that she is very ill and will soon be “going home” to Heaven; Ellen is not to grieve for her but to trust in God. She also invites Ellen to take her place in the Humphreys household. Ellen immediately moves in and begins by nursing Alice through her final weeks. After Alice dies, Ellen turns to John for guidance. He takes over as her tutor, spiritual advisor, and guiding light. By the time a Humphreys relative dies in England and John must travel overseas to handle the family’s business, Ellen (though sad to see him go) is a stronger person.
One day Nancy visits Ellen, bringing letters she has found while cleaning Fortune’s house. They are for Ellen from her mother and express the wish that Ellen goes to live with relatives in Scotland; after sharing the letters with Mr. Humphreys, Ellen decides she must honor her parents’ wishes so the Humphreys send her to Scotland to live with the Lindsays: her grandmother and uncle Lindsay and Lady Keith. They welcome her into their home and find her delightful, but they become very possessive of her and force her to denounce her identity as an American and as a Montgomery. Mr. Lindsay even makes Ellen call him “father” and refers to her as his “own little daughter.” The Lindsays 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 during a New Year’s Eve party at the Lindsays’, he shows up asking for her. The Lindsays try to keep them apart, but they are unsuccessful. During their emotional reunion John reminds Ellen to keep her faith; in a few years, when she will be able to choose where she lives, she can return to America and live with him. When Ellen introduces John to the Lindsays, they actually become fond of him. John must soon return to America, but not without promising Ellen that they will be together forever soon. In an unpublished chapter at the end of the book, Ellen returns to America as Mrs. John Humphreys.
Susan Bogert Warner (pen name, Elizabeth Wetherell; July 11, 1819 – March 17, 1885), was an American Presbyterian writer of religious fiction, children’s fiction, and theological works. She is best remembered for The Wide, Wide World. Her other works include Queechy, The Hills of Shatemuck, Melbourne House, Daisy, Walks from Eden, House of Israel, What She Could, Opportunities, and House in Town. Warner and her sister, Anna, wrote a series of semi-religious novels which had extraordinary sale, including Say and Seal, Christmas Stocking, Books of Blessing, 8 vols., The Law and the Testimony.
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