Child Saving, Nation Building: <i>The Wide, Wide World</i> and <i>The Lamplighter</i>

Carol J. Singley

in Adopting America: Childhood, Kinship, and National Identity in Literature

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199779390
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199895106 | DOI:
Child Saving, Nation Building: The Wide, Wide World and The Lamplighter

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Girls figure prominently in mid-nineteenth-century adoption fiction, as evidenced by Susan Warner’s The Wide, Wide World (1851) and Susanna Maria Cummins’s The Lamplighter (1854). These novels, set when statutes governing adoption were still vague and reflecting the importance of nurture as articulated by Horace Bushnell, acknowledge American opportunities while acknowledging European roots. Warner’s protagonist, Ellen, pays homage to the Old World on a visit to blood relatives, the Lindsays, but ultimately affirms her commitment to the New World. Gerty, in contrast, exercises her independence in The Lamplighter but reunites with her birth father in an expression of solidarity with Old World genealogy. Both novels contribute to a sense of identity as inherited and adoptive and to a construction of nation in dialogue with but independent of England.

Keywords: Susan Warner; The Wide; Wide World; Ellen Montgomery; Susanna Maria Cummins; The Lamplighter; Gerty Flint; Horace Bushnell; Christian nurture; Old World; New World; domesticity; Romantic individualism; independence; Republic

Chapter.  11624 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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