Maria Susanna Cummins Criticism - Essay

Godey's Lady Book (review date July 1854)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of The Lamplighter, by Maria Susanna Cummins. Godey's Lady Book 49 (July 1854): 84-85.

[In the following review, the contemporary critic states that The Lamplighter provides enjoyable and edifying reading.]


We received a copy of the first edition of this popular work when it first appeared, but only had time to give it passing notice in the then forthcoming number of the “Lady's Book.” We have been since furnished with another copy, which we are pleased, but not astonished to see is one of the “thirty fifth thousand” that have already passed through the press. We can now say that we have carefully perused this work, and have no hesitation in pronouncing it to be, in our opinion, one of the best and purest of its class that has emanated from an American mind. Too many of our writers are in the habit, when attempting to sketch the realities of humble life, to draw extravagant and revolting pictures of viciousness, or of too suddenly reforming and transforming their most abandoned characters into angels of light, and then setting them up as miracles of virtue. There are, indeed, some few extravagances observable in the denouement of the plot of The Lamplighter; but, notwithstanding these, the reader will be gratified, entertained, and instructed by the graphic and feeling style of the author, and, it may be, made better in heart by the just, generous, and charitable sentiments that profusely flow from her pen. We hope the work will go up to another “thirty-fifth thousand,” because we think its perusal is calculated to do a great deal of good, independent of the delight it affords as a source of amusement.

North American Review (review date January 1858)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Mabel Vaughan, by Maria Susanna Cummins. North American Review 86 (January 1858): 287.

[In the following review, the critic exalts Cummins's second novel, applauding its moral truths and finding its plot development, characterization, and style superior to those in The Lamplighter.]

Mabel Vaughan has disappointed our expectations in a way in which we are glad to be disappointed. To our mind it very far outdistances its predecessor in merit. In The Lamplighter, we admired the personage that gives name to the book, and could not but sympathize with the fortunes of the heroine; yet the story did not seem to us skilfully constructed, and many of the incidents were beyond the range of even a novelist's probability. In this new tale, Mabel, the central figure, yields in interest to no character of recent fiction; the plot is strongly conceived, and developed naturally and happily; and the sketches of rural, city, and Western life are wonderfully fresh, vivid, and authentic. At the same time, the story, in its main series of events, in its by-plots, in its mere details, is fraught with the highest truths of morality and religion; and these are not obtruded upon the reader, but so incorporated with the whole texture of the tale, that he must either take them in, or leave the book unread. We note also a marked improvement in style, and cannot but predict for the accomplished author a high and enduring place among our American novelists.

Alexander Cowie (essay date 1951)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cowie, Alexander. “The Domestic Sentimentalists and Other Popular Writers.” The Rise of the American Novel, pp. 416-24. New York: American Book Company, 1951.

[In the following excerpt, Cowie asserts that the controlling theme of The Lamplighter concerns the attainment of moral regeneration by means of humble submission to suffering.]

Not so prolific or indeed so long-lived as many of her kind, Maria Susanna Cummins wrote one novel, The Lamplighter, which with The Wide, Wide World and St. Elmo, probably represents the chief elements of the domestic novel in its most comprehensive and popular form. Miss Cummins was born at Salem,...

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Nina Baym (essay date 1978)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Baym, Nina. “Susan Warner, Anna Warner, and Maria Cummins.” Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-1870, pp. 140-74. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978.

[In the following excerpt, Baym investigates domestic fiction's emphasis on a woman's ability and responsibility for attaining religious grace by dutiful self-sacrifice, as demonstrated both in The Lamplighter, about an orphan's spiritual rise above her volatile temperament, and in Mabel Vaughan, about an heiress' fall from the superficialities inherent in her life of wealth.]

The most successful imitation (in Harold Bloom's sense, misreading) of The...

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Erika R. Bauermeister (essay date spring 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bauermeister, Erika R. “The Lamplighter, The Wide, Wide World, and Hope Leslie: Reconsidering the Recipes for Nineteenth-Century American Women's Novels.” Legacy 8, no. 1 (spring 1991): 17-28.

[In the following essay, Bauermeister asserts that Cummins's The Lamplighter pales in comparison to the cultural and ethical complexity of Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World. The critic also suggests that The Lamplighter's ethical system and emphasis on female independence is better understood when compared to Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie.]

For a variety of reasons, the critical work on American women novelists...

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G. M. Goshgarian (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Goshgarian, G. M. “Go Away and Die: The Lamplighter, ‘Lena Rivers, Ernest Linwood.To Kiss the Chastening Rod: Domestic Fiction and Sexual Ideology in the American Renaissance, pp. 156-212. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.

[In the following excerpt, Goshgarian surveys the display of paternal power over wayward females in The Lamplighter, focusing specifically on the incestuous undertones.]

It is time we turned the light of Maria Susanna Cummins's The Lamplighter (1854) back on the source. The Lamplighter, it will be recalled, affirms, expressis verbis, that the secret of true happiness lies in kissing the...

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Susan S. Williams (essay date June 1996)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Williams, Susan S. “‘Promoting an Extensive Sale’: The Production and Reception of The Lamplighter.The New England Quarterly 69, no. 2 (June 1996): 179-200.

[In the following essay, Williams surveys the publishing history of The Lamplighter, and discusses John Jewett's strategies for advertising and promoting its various editions.]

Maria Susanna Cummins's novel The Lamplighter (1854) is best remembered today as the occasion for Nathaniel Hawthorne's infamous diatribe against women writers. “America is now wholly given over to a d——d mob of scribbling women,” Hawthorne wrote to his publisher William D. Ticknor in 1855....

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Elizabeth Barnes (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Barnes, Elizabeth. “Corporate Individualism: The Lamplighter.States of Sympathy: Seduction and Democracy in the American Novel, pp. 74-99. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

[In the following excerpt, Barnes asserts that Gerty's physical return to her family, as well as her spiritual return to Christianity, are presented in uniquely modern terms in The Lamplighter. The critic focuses on how Gerty's independence is reinforced rather than reduced by her reconnection to paternal figures.]


Written more than forty years after A New-England Tale, The...

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Malini Johar Schueller (essay date 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schueller, Malini Johar. “Missionary Colonialism, Egyptology, Racial Borderlands, and the Satiric Impulse: M. M. Ballou, William Ware, John DeForest, Maria Susanna Cummins, David F. Dorr.” U.S. Orientalisms: Race, Nation, and Gender in Literature, 1790-1890, pp. 75-108. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.

[In the following excerpt, Schueller discusses Cummins's use and dissection of contemporary stereotypes of the “Near Eastern Orient” in her novel El Fureidis.]

Like DeForest, Maria Susanna Cummins, in El Fureidis (1860), also uses the figures of the male archaeologist and the missionary woman to provide a basic structure for the raced...

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William Kupinse (essay date fall 1999)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kupinse, William. “Household Trash: Domesticity and National Identity in The Lamplighter and the ‘Nausicaa’ Episode of Ulysses.South Carolina Review 32, no. 1 (fall 1999): 81-87.

[In the following essay, Kupinse considers The Lamplighter's relationship to James Joyce's “Nausicaa,” noting that Joyce's use of Cummins's novel draws attention to the manner in which discourses of domesticity and established roles of womanhood are subsumed within larger discourses of national character and identity.]

Although the role of consumer culture in Ulysses has received significant recent critical attention, what is frequently...

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Frederick Newberry (essay date 2000)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Newberry, Frederick. “Male Doctors and Female Illness in American Women's Fiction, 1850-1900.” In Separate Spheres No More: Gender Convergence in American Literature, 1830-1930, edited by Monika M. Elbert, pp. 143-57. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Newberry demonstrates how the feminization of medical care in the nineteenth century—with love, kind attention, and deference to female-specific needs—either supplants altogether the role of a male doctor or enhances that doctor's abilities, as illustrated by both Gerty and Emily in Cummins's sickness-ridden The Lamplighter.]

It might be supposed that Charlotte Perkins...

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Cindy Weinstein (essay date winter 2001)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Weinstein, Cindy. “‘A Sort of Adopted Daughter’: Family Relations in The Lamplighter.ELH 68, no. 4 (winter 2001): 1023-47.

[In the following essay, Weinstein shows how Gerty's story in The Lamplighter is itself a paradigm of the production of domestic-relations laws, specifically those of adoption, which were formulated and debated concurrently with the novel's publication and which legally reconstituted “family” from a biological basis to that of choice based on domestic stability.]

My title comes from a passage in Maria Cummins's The Lamplighter (1854). Throughout the novel, Gerty, the main character, has no stable place in...

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Claire Chantell (essay date autumn 2002)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Chantell, Claire. “The Limits of the Mother at Home in The Wide, Wide World and The Lamplighter.Studies in American Fiction 30, no. 2 (autumn 2002): 131-54.

[In the following essay, Chantell explores the way The Wide, Wide World and The Lamplighter embrace and critique conservative domestic ideologies relating to women and child-rearing.]

By the middle of the nineteenth century, domesticity had gained a position of prominence, if not dominance, in American culture; this discourse of home, family, and private life influenced everything from home design to social reform movements.1 A primary feature of this ideology...

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