The National Era,
October 16, 1851
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THE WIDE, WIDE WORLD. By Elizabeth Wetherell. New York: George P. Putnam, 155 Broadway. 1851.
Although this work has been already some months before the public, we do not remember having met with any notice of it; and although remarks made for the tenth time upon so interesting a work would hardly fail to attract attention, its first or second, or even third, criticism we suppose may possess considerable interest.
The work is fictitious in its character, but yet so that it brings no purely imaginary personages before the mind, nor presents us with similitudes of things that have never been. We close it, after perusal, half convinced that we have been reading a genuine biography; so lifelike and wholly natural are its characters, so unaffectedly and accurately does it touch the chords of common life.
“Difficile est proprie communia dicere,” [*]
said an ancient critic of no mean reputation; and the author’s chief merit seems to us that, leaving the fashionable and courtly crowd at such a distance, nearly the entire work is devoted to the exhibition and development of the scenes of every-day life, in a manner so truthful, so discriminating, and so rare.
To its fictitious character is superadded a religious cast, of a far different nature, however, from that of many of the “religious novels” that have lately appeared[.] It is not with this, as with “Margaret Percival,” &c., where the heroine is represented as wavering between doctrines, and speculating upon various dogmas, which somehow vanish before a right perception of orthodoxy as the book holds it. In such fictions, there is an inevitable idea of unreality, and a suspicion of controversial purposes. But this work, introducing a child of generous impulses, disposed rather to believe than reason, conducts her through conflicts of divine grace and a good determination, with the various and trying temptations incident to her lot, until, in the language of the Scriptures, “the trial of faith worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope,” which diffuses throughout her life a sweet sanctity and tranquil joy that rarely, if ever, adorns one so young. Nothing can be more interesting than to witness the regular and beautiful development of such a character, nor can we withhold our admiration of the facility, yet theoretic nicety, with which the results are so contrived. Especially are we pleased with the two who are instrumental in the moulding this young character. We are at a loss to conceive how they could have been better qualified for the task, or how the duty could have been more scrupulously performed. As we have seen at times upon a mall two trees of mature growth, symmetrically graceful, bending over a newly transplanted one between, as if with tender solicitude lest any worm should climb to its more accessible foliage, or lest it should bend perversely, or grow out of due proportions, so do these rare individuals exercise at the same time a most pleasing, affectionate, and constant care over their “little sister.”
We have thus given a mere skeleton of the work. It is most aptly and beautifully clothed and adorned with agreeable description, bits of pleasantry, and much deep and simple pathos. Indeed, we never remember having met with any passages, in writers most distinguished for their tear-exciting powers, so deeply affecting as the simple description by the old servant of little Ellen at the death-bed of her adopted sister.
Our last comment is, that the book ends exactly where it should. We are heartily disgusted at the prurient taste for love stories that prevails at present. We can hardly remember more than one or two narratives of late which did not regard the marriage of the parties as necessary to a happy denouement. But although no such thing is spoken of in this story, yet matters are left in such a position that it requires no great effort of the imagination to spend two or three chapters, so as to satisfy the most ardent expectant of connubial terminations. Thus, it skilfully avoids insipidity of most fictitious conclusions--a positively pleasant thing to many, while to those of a different taste it affords the gratification of imagining a conclusion for themselves, without having it distinctly asserted to them. In conclusion, we add, that if the author would prepare a sequel to this truly interesting book, it would doubtless be received with eager pleasure by the many who have read the Wide, Wide World.
[* It is difficult to speak of the universal specifically. --Horace]
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