"While We Must Suffer, We Must Not Rebel:" The Calvinist Framework of Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World


  • Simona Porro




According to Barbara Welter, religion or piety was at the heart of a “true” woman’s cardinal attributes. This “peculiar susceptibility” to religion, reportedly bestowed upon women by God Himself, blessed them with an intrinsic virtuosity and, in so doing, appointed them as the bastions of morality within the domestic realm. This emphasis on religion stemmed from the revivalist movement that spread throughout the Unites States in the antebellum decades. The movement, known as the Second Great Awakening, was particularly successful at converting women, and at involving them in pastoral activities, including preaching. In this way, it laid the groundwork for the creation of a culture of female piety that unlocked the production of a literature infused with theology. In that respect, one the most popular writers of the era was Susan Warner, the author of The Wide, Wide World. The novel, published in 1850, stands out in the genre for the magnitude and scope of the religious aspect and, above all, for the doctrines espoused by the writer. Warner depicts the circumstances surrounding the protagonist’s ordeal through orphanhood and subsequent adoption exclusively through the lens of a stern Calvinist approach – a notable exception in the genre, which was characterized mainly by Unitarian writers, who employed fiction to undermine Calvinism and to promote their doctrines of choice. The immense popularity of Warner’s novel offers ample evidence that Puritan influence persisted in the country with undiminished strength.