Nothing Succeeds Like Failure

Elizabeth Elkin Grammer

in Some Wild Visions

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780195139617
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199834242 | DOI:

Series: Religion in America

Nothing Succeeds Like Failure

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Fore‐grounding the intense opposition they faced (from family members, male itinerant preachers, established clergy, and Satan—who often personifies in these books a hostile patriarchal culture) was yet another useful means of self‐definition for these female autobiographers. By emphasizing their “failure” to be accepted in the world of nineteenth‐century American culture, they “succeed” in the autobiographical task of creating and preserving a self. Of course, singularity and the opposition it provoked, while assets in the making of selfhood, could also be psychologically disorienting, even for faithful female itinerants who found their “sufficiency” in God (2 Corinthians 3:5). But these rootless women had a resource that secular autobiographers and rebels lacked: As they lived and wrote their lives, the Bible afforded them a language (which they use repeatedly in their books) and hard evidence that their experiences of opposition were deeply rooted in a powerful and empowering tradition of prophecy and martyrdom. Thus the ceiling on success that they bemoan could actually be used as a safety net, a guarantee that no matter how effectively they competed in the marketplace of salvation, they could remain—by privileging persecution in their narratives—the “strangers and pilgrims” that Christian disciples are called to be.

Keywords: prophecy; Satan; male itinerant preachers; self‐definition; female autobiographers; Bible; persecution; martyrdom; strangers and pilgrims; Christian disciples

Chapter.  16347 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Christianity

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