The Wide, Wide World, Susan Warner Criticism - Essay

Prospective Review (review date 1853)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of The Wide, Wide World. Prospective Review 15 (1853): 314-39.

[In the following excerpt, the reviewer describes The Wide, Wide World as an excellent example of morally didactic literature for children but critiques some of its stylistic qualities.]

Except Amy Herbert, we never read a child's story to compare in interest with the Wide, Wide World; and as it has gone far through the wide worlds of England and America, and received a large share of attention from the readers of fiction here and there, it claims, we think, with its sister story, some notice at our hands. We have lately spoken of the important influence acquired...

(The entire section is 8799 words.)

Southern Literary Messenger (review date April 1854)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of The Wide, Wide World. Southern Literary Messenger 20, no. 4 (April 1854): 214-16.

[In the following excerpted review, the critic calls The Wide, Wide World “the most delightful tale that has probably ever been written.”]

We have no intention of criticising any production of [Susan Warner's] pen, and only fear that we shall be guilty of extravagance in speaking of her writings. We well recollect our first perusal of the Wide Wide World, and we then predicted its success. It deserved to succeed if a pure and beautiful work of Art, full of the most exalted piety, and as true to life and human nature as reality itself, deserve...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Edward Halsey Foster (essay date 1978)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Foster, Edward Halsey. “The Perils of Apostasy.” In Susan and Anna Warner, pp. 34-53. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978.

[In the following excerpt, Foster surveys the content and reception of The Wide, Wide World, considering the book “one of the first, and certainly the most famous domestic novel” in America. The critic continues by probing the reasons for its popularity in the nineteenth century as well as the principal sources of contemporary interest in the work.]

[The Wide, Wide World] was written in closest reliance upon God: for thoughts, for power, and for words. Not the mere vague wish to write a book that should...

(The entire section is 8591 words.)

Richard H. Brodhead (essay date winter 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Brodhead, Richard H. “Sparing the Rod: Discipline and Fiction in Antebellum America.” Representations, no. 21 (winter 1988): 67-96.

[In the following excerpt, Brodhead explores the acculturated psychodynamics of Ellen's reliance on her mother, and the effects of the latter's death.]

Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World (1851), which went on to become one of the four or five most widely read American novels of the whole nineteenth century, is often cited as the first of the new bestsellers. And it is Warner's book that offers the most impressive recognition of discipline through love as a culture-specific historical formation. The Wide, Wide...

(The entire section is 2241 words.)

Nancy Schnog (essay date spring 1989)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schnog, Nancy. “Inside the Sentimental: The Psychological Work of The Wide, Wide World.Genders, no. 4 (spring 1989): 11-25.

[In the following essay, Schnog declares that The Wide, Wide World is a complex, psychological portrait of feminine sentiment.]

In the past few years Susan Warner's sentimental novel The Wide Wide World, one of nineteenth-century America's most popular novels and the nation's first best-seller, has been at the center of some of the most provocative and detailed discussions of the mechanics and politics of sentimentality.1 A decade ago, on the margin of this revival, Warner's novel was typically...

(The entire section is 7841 words.)

Isabelle White (essay date fall 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: White, Isabelle. “Anti-Individualism, Authority, and Identity: Susan Warner's Contradictions in The Wide, Wide World.American Studies 31, no. 2 (fall 1990): 31-41.

[In the following essay, White places The Wide, Wide World in the ideological context of nineteenth-century America and states that the work represents the conflict between the individual and authority during a period of developing capitalism.]

During the 1850s, the decade that culminated in the Civil War, competing interests struggled to shape a definition of America. Issues at stake were whether the national identity would be defined by slave states or free states, by agrarian...

(The entire section is 5518 words.)

Susan S. Williams (essay date December 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Williams, Susan S. “Widening the World: Susan Warner, Her Readers, and the Assumption of Authorship.” American Quarterly 42, no. 4 (December 1990): 565-86.

[In the following essay, Williams remarks on Warner's initial resistance to being labeled a sentimental novelist.]


“Sue, I believe if you would try, you could write a story.” Thus, according to her sister Anna, did Susan Warner's Aunt Fanny unceremoniously suggest that she write a novel. Anna then qualified this anecdote: “Whether she added ‘that would sell,’ I am not sure; but of course that was what she meant.”1 The less pragmatic version of this...

(The entire section is 8827 words.)

Grace Ann Hovet and Theodore R. Hovet (essay date spring 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hovet, Grace Ann, and Theodore R. Hovet. “Identity Development in Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World: Relationship, Performance and Construction.” Legacy 8, no. 1 (spring 1991): 3-16.

[In the following essay, the critics read The Wide, Wide World as a sophisticated rendering of feminine identity construction that has been falsely dismissed by many as mere sentimental fiction.]


Recent critical readings of the 1850 bestseller The Wide, Wide World disagree on whether Susan Warner's frequent depictions of tears of grief, rage, helplessness or joy—scenes which seem so emotionally...

(The entire section is 8619 words.)

Veronica Stewart (essay date spring 1994)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stewart, Veronica. “The Wild Side of The Wide, Wide World.Legacy 11, no. 1 (spring 1994): 1-16.

[In the following essay, Stewart characterizes Nancy Vawse as a subversive trickster figure in The Wide, Wide World who provides a vital commentary on the use of power as represented in the novel.]

In Susan Warner's popular nineteenth-century novel, The Wide, Wide World, aged Mrs. Vawse supplies the most pertinent clue to a comprehension of her incorrigible granddaughter's role in the text when she informs us that Nancy Vawse does not return home “if there's a promise of a storm” (193). As a wild, unpredictable child of storm, aligned...

(The entire section is 7950 words.)

Veronica Stewart (essay date spring 1995)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stewart, Veronica. “Mothering a Female Saint: Susan Warner's Dialogic Role in The Wide, Wide World.Essays in Literature 22, no. 1 (spring 1995): 59-74.

[In the following essay, Stewart compares The Wide, Wide World with John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and asserts that Warner's novel is an allegorical, proto-feminist spiritual journey that confronts the dominant literary and religious ideologies associated with nineteenth-century Anglo-American domesticity.]

According to Anna Warner, one of the first reviews of her sister's novel praised The Wide, Wide World (hereafter WWW) as a book “capable of doing more good than...

(The entire section is 8279 words.)

Catherine O'Connell (essay date spring 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: O'Connell, Catherine. “‘We Must Sorrow’: Silence, Suffering, and Sentimentality in Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World.Studies in American Fiction 25, no. 1 (spring 1997): 21-39.

[In the following essay, O'Connell illuminates narrative tensions between Ellen's feminine subjectivity and the directives of male-gendered authority figures—a conflict that precipitates the protagonist's suffering in The Wide, Wide World.]

Since its “rediscovery,”1 Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World has posed a challenge to critical readers: what is the meaning of the relentless, excruciating focus on the suffering of the young female...

(The entire section is 7903 words.)

Sara E. Quay (essay date spring 1999)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Quay, Sara E. “Homesickness in Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World.Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 18, no. 1 (spring 1999): 39-58.

[In the following essay, Quay relates Warner's use of nostalgia and loss in The Wide, Wide World to emerging nineteenth-century middle-class consumerism.]

Taken as a whole, Susan Warner's best-selling novel, The Wide, Wide World (1850), is about the experience of loss.1 In fact, the novel might be said to have been generated from the profound loss its author, as a young woman, experienced when her family moved from their home in New York City to an isolated existence on Constitution Island...

(The entire section is 9791 words.)

Suzanne M. Ashworth (essay date 2000)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ashworth, Suzanne M. “Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World, Conduct Literature, and Protocols of Female Reading in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America.” Legacy 17, no. 2 (2000): 141-64.

[In the following excerpt, Ashworth explains the thematic significance of Ellen's voracious reading and finds that this characteristic is an important mechanism of identity construction in The Wide, Wide World.]


If [nineteenth-century] women readers were to begin with the interchangeable maxims “read with purpose” and “read no novels,” then they were supposed to end with an eye to...

(The entire section is 9446 words.)

Elizabeth Fekete Trubey (essay date fall 2001)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Trubey, Elizabeth Fekete. “Imagined Revolution: The Female Reader and The Wide, Wide World.Modern Language Studies 31, no. 2 (fall 2001): 57-74.

[In the following essay, Trubey evaluates the portrayal of women's reading in The Wide, Wide World as an instructional but potentially subversive activity.]

The act of reading plays an important thematic role throughout Susan Warner's 1850 bestseller, The Wide, Wide World.1 Ellen Montgomery, the novel's heroine, is often depicted with book in hand, turning to the Bible and other moralizing texts for comfort, edification, and direction. Warner relates Ellen's method of approaching...

(The entire section is 8635 words.)

Jan L. Argersinger (essay date June 2002)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Argersinger, Jan L. “Family Embraces: The Unholy Kiss and Authorial Relations in The Wide, Wide World.American Literature 74, no. 2 (June 2002): 251-85.

[In the following excerpt, Argersinger probes Warner's use of “authorial seduction” in The Wide, Wide World, a process of subtly eroticizing familial and power relations in the novel so as to draw in readers.]

In the originally unpublished final chapter of Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World, Ellen and her new husband, John Humphreys, stand together before a painting of the Madonna and child and consider its meaning. This ideal woman's beauty, John declares, exists as a mere...

(The entire section is 12051 words.)