May 6, 1852
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QUEECHY. BY ELIZABETH WETHERELL, Author of “The Wide, Wide World.” New York: George P. Putnam, 10 Park Place. 1852.
But little more than a year has elapsed since two unpretending volumes appeared upon Mr. Putnam’s counter bearing the indefinite and rather unmeaning title of “The Wide, Wide World,”--two volumes of an American story, by an unknown author, and descriptive mainly of common rural life. They had not been heralded by intensely capitalized and apostrophized announcements, by the publication “by permission” of advance sheets or chapters, nor by the patronizing testimonials of litterateurs who had “examined the manuscript as carefully as time would allow,” or who had been “privileged” with a sight of the proof-sheets. As one and another turned carelessly over the leaves of these volumes and then laid them back upon the counter, the stock seemed quite unpromising for both author and publisher. Some who have high confidence in the judgment of the latter, some who make it a point to buy every new book, and a few whose fancy was struck with some chance sentiment or passage, carried the book home to read; occasionally some journal gave it a brief but favorable notice, and the advertising columns kept it duly before the public eye. The edition might be worked off in time.
But presto, what a change has come over the whole affair. The visitor in familiar of literary taste is everywhere besieged with the question “Have you seen Mr. Putnam’s new book?--Have you read The Wide, Wide World?” There is a run upon the counters of the booksellers; country orders multiply; the first edition is exhausted; another is issued, and now the journals and the critics are awake to the fact that here is a work deserving of some special notice; “The Wide, Wide World” leaps at once into the front rank of American fictitious literature, and both author and publisher have made a palpable “hit.” The literary gossip of the day is full of speculation about the unknown author to whom the avenues of reputation and of wealth have so suddenly opened; and the romance of an island home in the Hudson, girt about with the highlands, and secluded from all sounds of busy life save the plashing of the steamer’s paddle and the shriek if the locomotive, transfers to the personality and the surroundings of the writer the charm of her book, and invests its story with the reality of her own experience. And yet the while the author, not courting fame or wealth, but writing rather from the simple pleasure of recording her own thoughts and fancies and for the solace of a secluded domestic life, and publishing rather through the promptings of filial affection and of generous friendship, is all unconscious that she herself has become the attractive center of a world of beautiful thought and of pure affection evoked by the creative power of her pen, and while that world is yet echoing her praises, the same modest pen is quietly tracing new scenes of rural beauty and domestic love that shall attract the hearts of thousands in both hemispheres.
“Queechy” is announced--a new book “by the author of ‘The Wide, Wide World,’”--and notwithstanding its uneuphonic title and its unimaginable theme, the whole edition is ordered before the preliminaries for an English copyright will allow it to be published. But now the author labors under the greater disadvantage of being everywhere known and admired; she must be compared with her own former self, and must sustain if not enhance her former reputation. Even Ik Marvel cloys when in “Dream Life” he reproduces the “Reveries of a Bachelor;” can this novice in authorship glean a second harvest from her own well-culled though fragrant field? Well. “Queechy is out!” and the verdict of the literary public is that the author has equaled without reproducing herself. The gentle Fleda, a guileless orphan, gifted with rare prudence and energy of character, brilliant and beautiful as the wild anemone, yet delicate and sensitive as the most guarded plant of the green-house--adorned even in girlhood with every womanly virtue and grace, clothed with strength and the glory of Christian principle, serene with the inward joy of Christian faith and hope, meek, patient, kind, gracious, self-possessed,--a charm, a stay, a light, and benison to all within the sphere of her pure and radiant life--she is a picture that the heart at once enshrines and thenceforth possesses as its own. She has all the tender grace and beauty of the more delicate creations of Dickens, with none of their extravagances, and with an exquisite development of Christian character to which these are strangers; she is a being of a higher order than the gentle, pensive Nell, the innocent and charming Ada, or even the thoughtful, principled, benignant, ever sunny Esther. Fleda impartes a charm to every thing around her. The book is her biography.
The accomplished critic of The Tribune professes himself unable to explain the remarkable success of these works “by the current rules of literary art.” There is no mysterious plot,--though the denouement is tolerable well concealed,--there is no startling incident, there is no very marked character. But is it true that popular taste in America demands something “showy and impassioned” in every book that claims its favor? We judge rather that this sort of simple heart-painting, true to nature, is most sure of popular favor and of ultimate success. It is the very absence of all effort at effect in these volumes that pleases. Nature is described with a rare truthfulness, that transfers to the printed page as by the improved processes of the Daguerrean art, the very shapes and colors of the landscape, the lights and shadows of the fleeting clouds, and the minutest leaf and blade of the fresh springing verdure. Home life is here presented without embellishment, and the commonest rural scenes and the homeliest rural dialogues are introduced without apology and without artificial adornment. The heart loves these simple home scenes. More of artistic taste would detract from the substantial merit of the book. Let the author write as heretofore to please herself, and she will please her manifold admirers.
The worthy correspondent who is scandalized at occasional notices of fictitious works in our columns--and with whose general principles we agree--may find occasion to modify his strictures if he will read these volumes, or if like a good anti-slavery man, he will read that master-work of fiction, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” It may possibly help him in making distinctions where now he seems a little confused.
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Reviews Archive: Jill Kirsten Anderson
Transcriptions: Jill Kirsten Anderson, Gabrielle Borders, and Elizabeth Korinke
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