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"Take, eat": food imagery, the nurturing ethic, and Christian identity in The Wide, Wide World, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Depictions of food and food preparation pervade American sentimental and domestic novels of the nineteenth century. Food and consumption imagery is ubiquitous in Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Harriet Jacobs's autobiographical Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. In The Wide, Wide World, which proves a rich resource for documentation of early nineteenth-century New England cooking, Warner concludes a page-long description of Ellen's preparation of her mother's tea by noting, "[a]ll this Ellen did with the zeal that love gives, and though the same thing was to be gone over every night of the year, she was never wearied" (13). And apparently, Warner never wearied from writing similar meticulous descriptions. Uncle Tom's Cabin features several similar scenes in which such communal moments associated with the art and act of food preparation and feeding (serving that food to others) suggest a sacred ritual. Aunt Chloe's cooking skills are legendary, and Rachel Halliday's kitchen simmers with good food, goodwill and love. In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the kindly Aunt Marthy feeds many of the townspeople and exhibits a holy hospitality to her family, friends and enemies alike. (1) Among women, particularly, such moments of intimacy and nurturing connote a holy communion that consecrates their shared experience of service and sacrifice, as lane Tompkins has noted:
 The affection and closeness that women share in the sheltered
 spaces of domestic fiction and the homely sacraments (often the
 taking of food and tea) through which they offer tenderness,
 nourishment, and support to one another, embody an intimacy that
 takes the place of heterosexual love. Combining sensual delight,
 emotional comfort, and spiritual communion, these rituals offer
 moments of wholeness and fulfillment that compensate the female
 characters for the renunciations that are their daily portion.
 ("Afterword" 600)


In these Christian sentimental narratives, such food rituals can be interpreted specifically as enactments of the Christian sacrament of communion in the offering up of one's body in service for her loved ones. (2) Goodness is represented by those who, in Christlike fashion, feed and nurture.

Stowe contrasts these priestly Christian women with Simon Legree who sadistically consumes, rather than nurtures, his slaves. Jacobs similarly focuses on such perverse behavior to show how slavery contradicts the Christian ethos of nurturing. The church-going Flints are known for dietary abuse of their slaves: "Mrs. Flint" regularly withholds food from household slaves, and "Dr. Flint" brutally punishes his cook when the food does not satisfy his fastidious palate. (3) Jacobs draws direct comparisons between their behavior and the nurturing Christ, who calls himself the "bread of life;' the feeding nurturer: "he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst" (John 6:35). (4) In the latter two narratives of slavery, evil is depicted in acts of withholding food, failing to feed the hungry, or in its most despicable form, devouring those one should be feeding.

Godly women in these sentimental narratives feed everyone, and no one goes hungry who can approach their tables. The food and feeding imagery stresses the dominant themes of motherly nurturing and service as they relate to the psychological concepts of empathy and mutual recognition exemplified in the Christian sacrament of communion. The emphasis on motherly nurturing associates the maternal with the divine: in the same manner that biblical texts refer to Christ as the "Bread of Life," which, through his empathic identification with humans, was broken for their redemption, godly women in Christian sentimental and domestic narratives offer their food, their bodies, and their feelings--themselves--to effect the redemption of those they love, illustrating the authors' intimate knowledge of New Testament theology and tropes. This godlike empathy and the service and sacrifice it engenders are starkly contrasted in the narratives with the pernicious incorporation of the identities and bodies of the woman and the slave by the consuming master / oppressor. The texts differ, however, in their characterizations of domination and subordination, in their presentation of the oppressors' attempt to consume the subordinate, and the subordinate's resistance to that oppression. Warner's romanticization and even eroticization of domination, and her protagonist's relative passivity in response, is countered by Harriet Jacobs's condemnation and repudiation of domination and her protagonist's active and sustained resistance. Stowe's depiction of resistance to oppression falls somewhere on a continuum between Warner's and Jacobs's narratives. All three writers, despite these differences, dramatize their stories of domination and oppression within Christian concepts and theology. I have found that psychological theories on the dynamics of empathy and identity help to both illuminate these differences and explain why the conceptions of Christian identity in the narratives are variously depicted as everything from what psychologists consider a healthy identity in relation (Uncle Tom's Cabin and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl) to a completely self-less, relinquished, eclipsed identity, one that is consumed by a dominating other (The Wide, Wide World). (5)

The First Form of Human Relating

Psychologists cite the feeding experience as the earliest, most basic form of human relating; and an understanding of the dynamics involved helps to explain the ubiquitousness of food and feeding imagery in Christian sentimental / domestic novels, the tie between the maternal figure and the nurturing Christ of the Gospel accounts, and the connection between feeding / nurturing and identity. Psychological theories coming out of object relations theory, including relational and self psychology, help to explain how the early feeding experience aids in the infant's most elemental understanding of self and other. Initially, the developing psyche of the infant does not fully distinguish between the food and the caretaker, particularly when the mother nurses her child; and the mother as the primary provider of the food necessary for survival becomes inextricably linked with food and feeding (Bloom and Kogel 41). Gradually, the incorporation of food facilitates the emerging comprehension of bodily boundaries, and so the feeding experience constitutes the child's first connection and relationship with an other (47). The mother, in feeding the infant, ministers to the body of the child, thereby affirming her existence (she sees her) and promoting successful body/self integration (Winnicott 112). (6) Moreover, the feeding environment itself involves physical intimacy and emotionally attuned relating, cementing the correlation between physical and psychological nurturance and providing the foundation for a stable, coherent self-in-relation (Bloom & Kogel 41). (7) The interaction between the infant and caretaker establishes a foundation for other modes of relating, and the quality of that relationship influences the child's associations with nurturing and identity.

An important feature of this early relationship is the power differential between mother and infant: the relative powerlessness of the newborn and the intense level of care required of the mother make theirs not an entirely mutual relationship. Significant here is the mother's choice to labor on behalf of the child. As such, she sacrifices or suspends aspects of her own subjectivity in service to the other, according to the other's needs. Only over time, as the child's intersubjective capacities develop, can the mother gradually assert her full subjectivity and achieve a level of mutual recognition in the relationship (Benjamin 23-24). To the extent such mutuality is achieved, the child attains a healthy sense of self-in-relation that can be traced back to the fundamental dynamics of the early feeding experience. The failure to meet an infant's most basic physical needs--due to the caretaker's physical or psychological limitations--can result in a continuum of psychological dysfunctions (Bloom and Kogel 36, 41). Such dysfunctions may produce a tendency toward relationships of domination and subordination, rather than mutuality, characterized by fears of being devoured or consumed, eroticization of such consumption, and perceiving oneself as entirely vested or subsumed in the other (Benjamin 49-50).

Whatever the specific outcome of the early nurturing experience, it becomes permanently associated with both food and the mother throughout life; and in their psychic conflation, mother comes to represent not only the life-giver, but life itself:
 As infants come into this world, food and mother are
 indistinguishable to them: Women, themselves, are synonymous with
 their first food. Later, as children's personal needs become more
 complex, women provide emotional nurturance; they provide the
 metaphorical food of emotional sustenance. According to myth and
 art the world over, the very image of the female body has come to
 signify care, nurture, and essential desire. Everyone carries an
 elemental knowledge that without mother one could die. Mother's
 presence brings a sense of joyful relief; her absence,
 annihilation. (Gutwill, "Women's Eating Problems" 2)


Nineteenth-century American culture, the context for the sentimental narratives that are the subject of this discussion, shared this emphasis on mother as life-giver, and the concept was echoed in the culture's increasing "feminization" of God and Christ in American religion: each was viewed as the source of life. The desire and reverence for mother was transferred to, or from, depending on one's perspective, the figures of God and Christ. Characteristic of the valorization of the maternal in nineteenth-century America was an emphasis on the nurturing imperatives of the Bible and the maternal characteristics of God and Christ. (8)

Feed My Lambs: Feeding and Service as Christian Ethos

Feeding imagery, connoting physical, emotional, and spiritual nurturing, dominates the gospel accounts, and Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Wide, Wide, World, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl each reflects the author's intimate knowledge of biblical texts. Compassionate hospitality--meeting the physical needs of others--is presented throughout the Jewish and Christian scriptures as a godly act of love. From the provision of manna in the wilderness to the feeding of the multitudes by the Sea of Galilee, the Bible emphasizes the Judeo-Christian God's role of nurturer at its most basic level. Christ tells his disciples that the inheritors of his kingdom will be those who gave him food and drink when he was hungry and thirsty, those who met his physical needs, and explains, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 26:40). Christ's first and final interactions with his disciples, as related in the gospels of Luke and John, respectively, involve feeding them (Luke 5:1-7, John 21:46). In both instances, he directs the fishermen, who have given up without a catch, to drop their nets on the other side of the boat, and the yield is more than their nets can hold. The latter incident precipitates their recognition of Christ after the resurrection, and the disciples then share a meal of fish together (John 21:7-13). Over this last meal, Jesus questions Simon Peter's love for him and then responds to Peter's answer with a commission: "So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?' He saith unto him, 'Yea, Lord; though knowest that I love thee: He saith unto him, 'Feed my lambs.'" Christ's response suggests that his disciples' love can be shown through the act of "feeding" others. Two more times Christ repeats the question, responding each time to Simon Peter's declarations of love with his imperative to "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). New Testament writers reiterate this feeding commission by commanding Jesus's followers to feed the poor, to feed their enemies, and to feed the flock of the church (Acts 20:28, Rom. 12:20, I Pet. 5:2).

The domestic role of women in the nineteenth century placed them in the Christlike position of literally feeding the "flock" that is, their (extended) family. As mentioned, the godly are recognizable in the narratives of Jacobs, Stowe and Warner by their willingness to feed others; and the villains are those who deny food to, or who feed upon, those in their charge. In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, we learn that Jacobs's grandmother, Aunt Marthy, nursed the children of her mistress in their infancy; and after gaining her freedom, she feeds the town with her renowned and coveted preserves and crackers. Slaveholders and slaves alike come to tea to partake of her delicacies, and she regularly supplements the meager diets of her enslaved grandchildren. Aunt Marthy heaps "coals of fire" on the heads of her enemies through her gracious hospitality (Rom. 12:20): she entertains and feeds the constable and the local snitch in an attempt to convince them that her granddaughter could not be hiding on the premises. And for almost seven years she feeds Harriet who is hiding in the small garret above the storeroom.

Feeding and goodwill likewise partner imperatively throughout Uncle Tom's Cabin. Aunt Chloe's cooking makes the Shelby kitchen a warm and inviting place; but her own hearth, where she is mistress and thus feeds others on her own terms, yields even better food--the food of love preferred by Uncle Tom and young "Mas'r George" Shelby who comments, "They wanted me to come to supper in the house ... but I knew what was what too well for that, Aunt Chloe" (70). Rachel Halliday, the Quaker matron whose teakettles and skillets whistle and sizzle cheerful melodies, presides over a table where everyone, black and white, sits down as equals. Her radical hospitality extends to not only feeding but harboring fugitives at great personal risk. Toward the end of the novel, we know Uncle Tom has had a redemptive influence on the spiritually and physically beleaguered slaves when some of the women cook his corncakes after he grinds their corn.

In The Wide, Wide, World, the benevolent gentleman who seeks to show kindness to Ellen Montgomery and her mother sends them daily presents of game birds for their supper. Miss Timmins, the Dunscombe's maid, indignant at her mistress's ill treatment of Ellen, makes her a scrumptious repast with the help of the hotel chambermaid. Mrs. Forbes, the sympathetic innkeeper, trying to comfort the distressed Ellen, believes that food will solve the problem: "you want something to eat,--that's the matter. I'll warrant you're half starved;--no wonder you feel bad. Poor little thing! you shall have something good directly" (91-92). Alice Humphreys, Ellen's mentor and surrogate mother, bonds with Ellen as they prepare and eat teacakes; and Margery the cook exudes maternal wholesomeness with her very presence. The good Mrs. Van Brunt considers it unethical to let Ellen go before feeding her: "but she ain't going home, nor you neither, 'Braham, till you've got your supper; it would be a sin to let her" (128).

The good Christians in these narratives will be found feeding others as they would feed Christ himself. At the same time, they can be identified with the deity who satisfies all hungers and thirsts: "He hath filled the hungry with good things" (Luke 1:53); "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink" (John 7:37, see also John 6:35). Ellen Montgomery, as she nurses her ailing mother, reads a passage from Revelation about the Lamb (Christ) who will satisfy the hunger and thirst of those who have persevered through tribulation:
 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall
 the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the
 midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto
 living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from
 their eyes. (Rev. 7:16-17)


The nurturers of the narratives identify with Christ as they feed, minister to, and empathize with the hungry and thirsty.

This identification becomes more complex considering that Christ presents himself not only as the provider of food, but as the food itself. In John, Christ declares to his followers, "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst" (6:35). The doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ's body as propitiation for the sins of humans positions him as the object of consumption, the body which was broken, the "Lamb who was slain;' for the redemption of fallen humans. Christ as bread, then, is more than metaphorical, as he confirms to an incredulous crowd:

"I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world"

The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

Then Jesus said unto them, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me and I in him." (John 6:51-56)

Christ anticipates here the sacrament of communion which he institutes at the Last Supper and which represents the height of the expression of Christ as both nourisher and nourishment:
 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and
 brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this
 is my body." And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to
 them, saying, "Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new
 testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
 (Matt. 26:26-28, also see Mark 14:2224, Luke 22:19)


Christians, then, ritually enact their identification with Christ by sacramentally incorporating his body into theirs. The psychology involved in this ritual will be discussed below within the context of how such incorporation might be differently interpreted.

The believer's identification with Christ and the sacramental bread has a history in Protestant American thought. Ann Kibbey, in her study of Puritan interpretations of material shapes, notes that although Puritan theologians rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, insisting instead on the materiality of the common bread, they nevertheless believed that the mystical body of Christ was present in the sacrament and that "[i]t was the spiritual presence of Christ that gave the sacramental icon its religious value" (51). The communion bread, while not the literal body of Christ, becomes the mystical body of Christ, a metaphor for the conversion of the believer:
 In the symbolism of the sacrament was the interpretation not only
 of Christ's body, but, more important, of the convert's
 body ... In accepting the sacrament the Christian accedes to the
 self-definition implicit in the sacramental bread and wine he
 swallows. Theologically, the original sin that plagues his own
 human essence is the social counterpart of the inadequate common
 bread, and to be "joined" to the mystical body of Christ likewise
 becomes the source of the convert's positive value. (Kibbey 52-53)


Note that this identification connotes a joining of identities, a communion. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians confirms this interpretation: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread" (I Cor. 10:16-17). As literal food preparers and nurturers, nineteenth-century Christian women would particularly embrace this trope for the positive connotation it conferred upon their service to and care for others.

In the same manner that the gospels present Christ as both the nourisher and nourishment that effect the redemption of humans, Christian sentimental narratives present women who both nurture and offer their labor to facilitate the redemption of those they love, and they further present (at varying levels) the feeder as consumable--hers is the consumed body. This service takes the form of empathy and emotional vulnerability, and, more significantly, offering one's physical body in service: the mother's body as food. On the psychic conflation of food, feeding and mother, psychoanalyst Susie Orbach asserts, "[a] mother's presence is always implicit in food. It is almost as if food in its many and varied forms, becomes a representation of the mother.... Food is a statement of her love, her power and her giving in the family. Food personifies the mother and she is rejected or accepted through it" (qtd. in Gutwill, "The Diet" 36).

In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Aunt Marthy and Jacobs herself are presented as exemplary feeder / nurturers whose sacrifices for their families, because of the evils of slavery, result in the consumption of their bodies. Aunt Marthy, a renowned baker, works relentlessly for years to raise money through the sale of her crackers and preserves to buy her remaining children and grandchildren. She purchases her son "Phillip" and eventually succeeds in purchasing her great-grandchildren. During the seven years Harriet Jacobs hides in the small garret above the storeroom, Aunt Marthy feeds her, supplies her with reading and sewing materials, incurs great personal risk, and sacrifices her own comfort and health in an attempt to ease her granddaughter's distressful situation. Harriet Jacobs, in her own attempt to facilitate her children's freedom, hides for seven years in the tiny attic space in which she has barely enough room to turn over, and where she suffers the debilitating effects of extreme cold and heat, insect bites, vermin, and multiple illnesses due to her exposure. She becomes food for hundreds of "little red insects, fine as a needle's point" that pierce her skin (which Aunt Marthy treats with her herbal remedies). Appropriately, Jacob's hiding place lies above the storeroom; she becomes the food store that nourishes her children's freedom. Although her body would for the rest of her life suffer the effects of her confinement (148), she accepts the cost: "I tried to be thankful for my little cell, dismal as it was, and even to love it, as part of the price I had paid for the redemption of my children" (123).

Uncle Tom's Cabin includes several similar examples of sacrificing women. Aunt Chloe offers her service over several years of her life for the redemption of her husband. Like Aunt Marthy, she puts her cooking skills to work to earn the funds necessary to purchase Uncle Tom. Her malaprops, "poetry" for "poultry" and "perfectioner" for "confectioner" suggest the artistic and spiritual nature of her sanctifying service and talent. Indeed, the narrative's physical description of Aunt Chloe makes her seem edible, a good food:
 A round, black shining face is hers, so glossy as to suggest the
 idea that she might have been washed over with white of eggs, like
 one of her own tea rusks. Her whole plump countenance beams with
 satisfaction and contentment from under her well-starched checked
 turban, bearing on it, however, if we must confess it, a little of
 that tinge of self-consciousness which becomes the first cook of
 the neighborhood, as Aunt Chloe was universally held and
 acknowledged to be. A cook she certainly was, in the very bone and
 centre of her soul. (66-67)


Her cooking skills penetrate to her "bone," and she does not balk at the five years of additional physical servitude required to earn the funds to redeem Uncle Tom. The good Quakeress, Rachel Halliday, similarly resembles food--"Her face was round and rosy, with a healthful downy softness, suggestive of a ripe peach"--and she presides over her table in a communion ritual replete with food infused with her holy spirit: "There was so much motherliness and full-heartedness even in the way she passed a plate of cakes or poured a cup of coffee, that it seemed to put a spirit into the food and drink she offered" (223). As Jane Tompkins points out, Rachel Halliday "is God in human form.... This is holy communion as it will be under the new dispensation: instead of the breaking of bones, the breaking of bread" (Sensational Designs 142). But according to Stowe's vision, one does not wait on the "new dispensation"; rather, one must usher it in, as she does by emphasizing George Harris, for the first time in his life, sitting down to eat with white people. Moreover, psychologically or spiritually identifying with the divine is not enough for Stowe. The true nurturer must physically identify with Christ by sacrificing her own physical comfort for the welfare and redemption of others. Rachel Halliday offers her labor and her home and further risks fines and imprisonment to aid the fugitives in their escape.

While Rachel Halliday embodies communion in a new dispensation in the North, little Eva suffers in the fallen world of the South, across the Ohio River, and surrenders her life for the redemption of sinners. The narrative implies that her small body wastes away, consumed by the evils of slavery, exemplifying Stowe's view of slavery as a cancer on both the family and the nation. Earlier in the story, when she hears that Prue, the neighbor's servant, has been beaten to death, "her large, mystic eyes dilated with horror, and every drop of blood [was] driven from her lips and cheeks" (327). Dinah the cook presciently declares that such stories are not for young ladies like Eva: "it's enough to kill 'em!" (327). This prognosis of the effects of such evils, which Eva says "sink into my heart," is confirmed with the concurrent mention of the foreboding cough signaling consumption. She falls seriously ill shortly after witnessing her cousin beat and emotionally abuse his young slave, Dodo. While "consumption" usually signified tuberculosis in mid-nineteenth-century texts, the term covered a multitude of physical ailments characterized by weight loss resulting in death, including cancer (Sontag 11). Paula Cohen, in The Daughter's Dilemma, reads the daughter's consumption in such texts as anorexia nervosa, a disease in which the family drama gets played out on the body of the daughter? Using family systems theory, Cohen explains how the daughter, because she is typically accommodating to the needs of others, carries for the family the symptoms of its dysfunction and wastes away from weight loss, or is "consumed" by the family's "sins" (27). While Cohen's study focuses on the rising nuclear family, we can see how it would apply to Eva as representative of the extended family threatened by the moral corruption of slavery. Stowe, like other abolitionists, considered slavery a national cancer; thus, consumption operated as an appropriate metaphor to describe slavery's effects. Susan Sontag, on the cultural metaphor of tuberculosis, notes that "there is generally some passionate feeling which provides, which expresses itself in, a bout of TB. But the passions must be thwarted, the hopes blighted. And the passion, although usually love, could be a political or moral passion" (22). The depiction of Eva's passion involves all three--Eva's intense love for her family, including the slaves, thwarted by slavery, and Stowe's political and moral condemnation of slavery. Consumption in the nineteenth century frequently facilitated a redemption, according to Sontag, either a "redemptive death for the fallen" or, as in this case, "a sacrificial death for the virtuous" (41). Unlike Cohen's model, Eva does not survive to rehabilitate the family; rather, her death effects the redemption of several family members, while the rest are scattered.

Stowe once wrote to her brother that it is the "mothers and wives who suffer and must suffer to the end of time to bear the sins of the beloved in their own bodies" (qtd. in Kelley 289, emphasis added). Eva, as Christ figure, plays such a role here. Uncle Tom's Cabin emphasizes Eva's Christlike self-sacrifice in a ritual enactment of the Last Supper when she gathers her loved ones around her and distributes locks of her hair, the counterpart of the sacramental bread. She asks her aunt to "shear the sheep!"--a suggestion of her status as sacrificial lamb--and gives each extended family member a lock of her hair in the same manner that Christ distributed the bread to his disciples at Passover. Topsy and Uncle Tom each carry this memento from Eva in a packet around their necks, a sacred relic later proving efficacious to its wearer. Evidence of the redemptive nature of Eva's death comes with the subsequent conversions of Topsy and Augustine St. Clare, who turn to the God in whose care Eva has entrusted them. Miss Ophelia repents of her racism and comes into a true love and affection for Topsy. Upon Eva's death, Uncle Tom enters a new realm of spiritual maturity enabling him to persevere through his trial unto death at the hands of Simon Legree. Later in the narrative, Legree's terror upon finding the lock of hair that Tom wears around his neck affirms the eucharistical nature of Eva's body. Legree's association of the talisman with his own mother, whose love and sacrifice he has repudiated, illustrates his rejection of any redemption offered by the sacrificing nurturer. When Tom loses the memento he cherished, its power is transferred to his own body, which becomes the site of consumption, indicating that the value is not invested in the symbol but in the body itself. The sacrifice of his body effects the redemption of several of Legree's slaves, including the overseers Sambo and Quimbo, facilitates Cassy and Emmeline's escape, and ultimately brings about the emancipation of the slaves back home in Kentucky when George Shelby fulfills the promise he makes on Tom's grave to lift the curse of slavery from his family.

Women in The Wide, Wide World similarly offer their labor and, ultimately, their lives to redeem others. Mrs. Montgomery, gravely ill at the opening of the narrative, expends the last remnants of her health to help Ellen gain the strength she will need for the trial of their impending separation. While she is too sick to prepare food for her daughter--Ellen has become the tea preparer--she nevertheless sacrifices herself to feed Ellen spiritually. (10) Mrs. Montgomery rallies to sell her cherished mother's ring to buy a Bible, spiritual food, for Ellen, for one "does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). (11) Their cruel separation eventually leaves Ellen in the hands of another mother figure, Alice Humphreys, who continues Ellen's spiritual nurturing. Ministering to both body and soul, she makes tea cakes with Ellen while offering encouragement and dispensing godly advice on dealing with the arbitrary Aunt Fortune. Alice, like Rachel Halliday, presides at the communion table and endows it with her spirit. During the meal at Mrs. Van Brunt's, she integrates the elements, provides what is lacking, unifying the whole in a priestly manner:
 Mrs. Van Brunt had set her breakfast-table with every thing her
 house could furnish that was nice; a bountifully spread board it
 was ... a most cheerful and pleasant meal ... Kindness and
 hospitality always kept Mrs. Van Brunt in full flow; and Alice,
 whatever she felt, exerted herself and supplied what was wanting
 everywhere; like the transparent glazing which painters use to
 spread over the dead colour of their pictures; unknown, it was she
 gave life and harmony to the whole. (204-05)


Alice operates as a Christlike, priestly mediator between Ellen and God in the narrative, nurturing her growing faith and feeding her spiritual hunger. To do so, however, she becomes "transparent," suspending, or even sacrificing, her identity (she was "unknown") to advance "life and harmony"

Warner's narrative explicitly correlates the maternal with Christ, apotheosizing the good mother to the extent that she, like Christ, must offer her life--the body as spiritual nourishment--to effect the salvation of her children? (12) The gentleman Ellen meets on the boat describes Jesus's love to her in terms of maternal qualities. He starts by interrogating Ellen on her mother's goodness and, once established, then compares these attributes to Christ:
 Your mother never minded her own ease or pleasure when your good
 was concerned. Did Christ mind his? You know what he did to save
 sinners, don't you? ... "Though he was rich, yet for our sake he
 became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich" He took
 your burden of sin upon himself, and suffered that terrible
 punishment--all to save you, and such as you.... And patient and
 kind as your mother is, the Lord Jesus is kinder and more patient
 still. (72-73)


This speech deeply impresses upon Ellen a desire to see Jesus in the light of the maternal, to love Jesus as she loves her mother. Ellen, through Alice's nurturing, progressively moves toward the personal relationship with God described by the anonymous gentleman. Alice empathizes deeply with Ellen in the loss of her mother and encourages Ellen to likewise empathize with and win over others with love. In spite of Alice's caretaking, it still takes her death to seal Ellen's salvation. Alice Humphreys's brother John operates as the God figure in the text, and Alice appropriately mediates between Ellen and John, bridging the gap between them and bringing them into intimate relationship. (13) She encourages Ellen to be less formal with John, to trust in his love for her, and to call him by his first name (301-302). When this level of intimacy is achieved, Alice dies, leaving Ellen completely in the hands of her brother. Upon Alice's death, Ellen also comes to know the name of the anonymous gentleman on the boat--George Marshman--who arrives to pay his respects to the family. Her introduction to Mr. Marshman, brought about by Alice's death, marks Ellen's full-fledged introduction into the faith (449).

According to Warner's theology, all Christians, not just the good mother, must serve and nurture others; and she uses food imagery to emphasize that role. Alice, in encouraging Ellen to good works and love for those around her, explains that Christians are the "salt" and "light" of the world: "if your little rushlight shines well there is just so much the less darkness in the world,--though perhaps you light only a very little corner. Every Christian is a blessing to the world; another grain of salt to go toward sweetening and saving the mass" (241). Here she refers to the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount:
 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his
 savour, wherewith shall it be salted? ... Ye are the light of the
 world ... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see
 your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
 (Matt. 5:13-16)


Good works, Alice explains, include "a kind word spoken,--a little thing done to smooth the way of one, or lighten the load of another,--teaching those who need teaching,--entreating those who are walking in the wrong way" (241). Lacking these good works, the Christian is the salt that has "lost his savour." Ellen receives an object lesson on the role of salt when she watches the butchering of the hogs and inquires of Mr. Van Brunt:

"What's the use of putting all that salt with the pork, Mr. Van Brunt?" asked Ellen.

"It wouldn't keep good without that; it would spoil very quick."

"Will the salt make it keep?"

"All the year round--as sweet as a nut."

"I wonder what is the reason of that" said Ellen. "Will salt make every thing keep good?"

"Every thing in the world--if it only has enough of it, and is kept dry and cool." (233)

Thus, Ellen learns that just as salt acts as a preservative and brings out the flavor of food, Christians must act positively in the world around them to counteract moral decay and bring out the best in others. Ellen, in learning to serve and nurture others, quickly becomes salt and light to those around her. In Warner's evangelical economy, such "seasoning" spreads, as we see in Ellen's spiritual encouragement of Mr. Van Brunt who helps Ellen cook, promises Ellen all the apples she wants, nurses her in her sickness, and reads her hymns. His nurturing then branches out to include Aunt Fortune's abused mother, to whom he starts reading his mother's Bible (487).

The depiction of good meals in the narrative underscores the spirit and community accompanying the food, rather than just the food itself, which makes them refections for both the soul and the body. At Mrs. Van Brunt's,
 Ellen was well feasted with the splitters, which were a kind of
 rich shortcake baked in irons, very thin and crisp, and then split
 in two and buttered, whence their name. A pleasant meal was that.
 Whatever an epicure might have thought of the tea, to Ellen in her
 famished state it was delicious; and no epicure could have found
 fault with the cold ham and the butter and the cakes; but far
 better than all was the spirit of kindness that was there. Ellen
 feasted on that more than on any thing else. (129)


Warner's description echoes the proverb, "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith" (Prov. 15:17). Food and feeding can even bring the cranky Aunt Fortune into community. When faced with an abundant harvest that would be impossible to process and preserve alone, Aunt Fortune holds a "bee" at the suggestion of Mr. Van Brunt and invites neighbors in the surrounding farming community to come and help process apples and sausage in exchange for good conversation, games, and a harvest feast: "It was a pleasant evening that. Laughing and talking went on merrily; stories were told; anecdotes, gossip, jokes, passed from mouth to mouth" (253), all capped with an impressive meal featuring Miss Fortune's mystery dessert:
 The company were all crowded round the table, eating and talking
 and helping themselves; and ham and bread and butter, pumpkin pies
 and mince pies and apple pies, cake of various kinds, and glasses
 of egg-nogg and cider were in every body's hands. One dish in the
 middle of the big table had won the praise of every tongue; nobody
 could guess and many asked how it was made, but Miss Fortune kept a
 satisfied silence, pleased to see the constant stream of comers to
 the big dish till it was near empty. (263)


Indeed, Warner's description of the evening preserves a unique and rich regional tradition in exquisite detail over several pages. (14) It is here that Ellen learns her Aunt's utter lack of nurturing skills represents an exception rather than the rule. Everyone shows great kindness and affection toward Ellen, kissing and caressing her, with the exception of Aunt Fortune, who does not allow Ellen to help with the food processing possibly because of the status it would grant her as fellow laborer.

Despite the obstacles presented by Aunt Fortune, Ellen's respect for and willingness to serve others mark her development toward becoming a feeder-nurturer and earn for her the appellative of sweet food. She reads to her lonely grandmother who responds with hugs, kisses, and tears, and declares that Ellen is "a great deal sweeter than any sugar-plums" (245). At the bee, Miss Janet, "touched by the respectful politeness of [Ellen's] manner," asks Miss Fortune, "who was the sweet little thing?" Miss Fortune, with darkened brow, calls Ellen a "kind of sweetmeats that is kept for company" (251). Ellen's move to sacrificing nurturer can be most dramatically evinced in her compassion for the naughty Nancy Vawse. As she starts to eat the last serving of the delicious mystery dessert, the portion Mr. Van Brunt saved for her, "her eye fell upon Nancy, standing back of all the company, and forgotten.... Ellen's eye went once or twice from her plate to Nancy, and then she crossed over and offered it to her":

"Ha'n't you got nothing?" said Nancy, coming up presently; "that wasn't your'n that you gave me, was it?"

Ellen nodded smilingly.

"Well, there ain't no more of it" said Nancy. "The bowl is empty"

"I know it" said Ellen.

"Why, didn't you like it?"

"Yes--very much"

"Why, you're a queer little fish" said Nancy. (263)

At the end of the evening, we see that the offering of food has brought about the first sign of Nancy's reform, as she approaches Ellen and asks: "'Ellen--will you kiss me?' Ellen dropped her armful of things, and taking Nancy's hands, gave her truly the kiss of peace" (264). Ellen later receives Nancy's aid when Aunt Fortune falls ill, and together they work night and day, cooking and cleaning, to keep the farm running. Through this experience, Ellen tests and extends her practical skills as feeder-nurturer, but the rest of the narrative is devoted to the lessons in self-abasement she must undergo to achieve the extreme level of sacrifice Warner requires of her model Christian.

Devouring Lions: Perverse Consumptions

While Warner carefully presents food and food preparation as part of Ellen's training in becoming a nurturer, she counters it with a presentation of the dysfunctional role of food associated with Ellen's antagonists, particularly her Aunt Fortune. In The Wide, Wide, World, it becomes clear that providing food for others without the love and nurturing it usually connotes nullifies, and even subverts, the otherwise positive trope of feeding. Ellen's aunt, Miss Fortune, as her name suggests, represents Ellen's fate and her great trial; and she provides food without the requisite love and concern that consecrates the ritual. Instead she consumes little Ellen by sadistically denying her any identity or positive recognition, withholding even the simplest expressions of affection, ignoring her hygienic needs, refusing to make arrangements for her schooling, and concealing letters from her mother and, later, news of her mother's death. Nineteenth-century American cultural values dictated that the true feminine hero possess appropriate domestic skills, so the narrative has Ellen learn from her Aunt Fortune the necessary skills of food preparation and housewifery; but she can learn nothing from her about true nurturing. Instead, the narrative employs "Miss Fortune" to teach Ellen, first, self-abnegation and, further, complete renunciation of her own needs, (15) Instead of being the provider of nourishment and the nourishment itself, a life-giver, Aunt Fortune simultaneously provides the food and consumes her niece by completely subjecting Ellen to her own will and maliciously depriving her of other physical and psychological comforts.

Thus, Aunt Fortune represents a bizarre inversion of the nineteenth-century mother in that she exercises her food production and preparation skills not for nurturing others but to nurture her own storehouse and reputation as a housekeeping wonder:
 Miss Fortune very, very seldom was known to take a bit from her own
 comforts to add to those of another. The ruling passion of this
 lady was thrift; her next, good housewifery. First, to gather to
 herself and heap up of what the world most esteems; after that, to
 be known as the most thorough housekeeper and the smartest woman in
 Thirlwall. (338-39)


Indeed, Aunt Fortune's kitchen skills are undisputed, and she applies the same meticulous care to her food preparations as Ellen in preparing her mother's tea, but Ellen lovingly labored for another whereas Miss Fortune labors only for herself, as a matter of pride. Although the food is delicious, meals at Miss Fortune's table fail to offer the intimacy and bliss characteristic of the meals over which Aunt Chloe, Rachel Halliday or Alice Humphreys preside: "As a general thing the meals at Miss Fortune's were silent solemnities; an occasional consultation, or a few questions and remarks about farm affairs, being all that ever passed" (228). Aunt Fortune cultivates no relationships (in sentimental terminology, she possesses no "tender ties"), extends no affection or kindness, and even abuses those in her care--her mother and Ellen. On the day of the bee, she sends both her lonely mother and the eager and excited Ellen to bed to get them out of the way, even after Ellen has labored all day in preparation. They attend the festivities only because the old grandmother hears the guests and demands Ellen bring her downstairs, where they are heartily welcomed by the company. In another dinner scene, Aunt Fortune, enraged over Ellen's having left without permission, reveals her appetite for violence: "I've a great mind to whip you for this, as ever I had to eat" (133). Although she provides food, her lack of sympathy and her oppressive presence render it indigestible. Ellen, after being subjected to her aunt's wrath, "could scarcely swallow," and Miss Fortune's continued disapproval results in Ellen's loss of appetite and weight, causing Mr. Van Brunt to remark to his mother how she was "wandering about like a ghost, and growing thinner and paler every day" (133, 134). By contrast, when Aunt Fortune falls ill, meals become much more enjoyable despite having been prepared by less skilled cooks:
 The meals were pleasanter during those weeks than in all the time
 Ellen had been in Thirlwall before; or she thought so. That sharp
 eye at the head of the table was pleasantly missed. They with one
 accord sat longer at meals; more talking and laughing went on;
 nobody felt afraid of being snapped up. (363)


The Wide, Wide, World, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl all present situations in which individuals do not dispense food with the appropriate ministrations as a perversion of ideal communion. In The Wide, Wide, World, once Ellen escapes the despotism of her Aunt Fortune, she experiences a new oppression from her dominating Scottish uncle, Mr. Lindsay, who requires the teetotaling Ellen to drink wine with him. In an intimate moment suggestive of a communion ritual, biscuits and wine are served; but when Ellen says that she would rather not imbibe the wine, he orders her to drink it, thereby desecrating their communion. His iterated claims to possession of Ellen--"You are mine own now--my own child--my own little daughter"--underscore her object status and suggest how in an act of involuntary consumption, she herself is consumed by her oppressive uncle (518). We see even greater perversions of the communion table in the narratives of slavery. As Gillian Brown has argued, in Uncle Tom's Cabin the corruptions of slavery are evident in the kitchens, or lack thereof, of Augustine St. Clare's home and Simon Legree's plantation. Dinah's disorderly kitchen and absence of intentional method, and the lack of any mention of a kitchen at all on Legree's plantation, signify a subverted domestic order characteristic of slavery's evils in these two locations. Although Augustine St. Clare indulges and pities his slaves, he.does not love them, nor do they have any reason to love their master or their mistress; thus, Dinah's meals may frequently be splendid, but they have no redeeming value. In the same manner that everything in her kitchen is out of place--"the rolling pin is under the bed and the nutmeg grater in her pocket with her tobacco" for "she had about as many places for each cooking utensil as there were days in the year"--so, too, are the slaves in St. Clare's household displaced from their rightful homes, with Mammy most cruelly separated from her husband and two children (317, 311).

Even more pernicious in slave narratives are instances of the master denying adequate nourishment to the hungry slave and other aberrant food practices that nourish the perversions of the slaveholder and consume the slave. As Frederick Douglass notes in an autobiographical account, "Lurking beneath all their dishes, are invisible spirits of evil, ready to feed the self-deluded gormandizers with aches, pains, fierce temper, uncontrolled passions" (110-11). Harriet Jacobs goes further to present her mistress's actions, upon her return from church, as a bizarre inversion of the Christian sacrament of communion:
 She was a member of the church; but partaking of the Lord's Supper
 did not seem to put her in a Christian frame of mind. If dinner was
 not served at the exact time on that particular Sunday, she would
 station herself in the kitchen, and wait till it was dished, and
 then spit in all the kettles and pans that had been used for
 cooking. She did this to prevent the cook and her children from
 eking out their meager fare with the remains of the gravy and other
 scrapings. (12)


In this passage, Jacobs represents Mrs. Flint's bodily fluids as a profane pollutant contrasting starkly with the sanctifying blood of Christ, "which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28). In biblical accounts, Christ multiplies food to feed the masses; in Mrs. Flint's domestic economy, food diminishes, is withheld, and is even used to punish. Jacobs relates how when Dr. Flint was served a dish that was not to his liking, he either whipped the cook or forced the food down her throat "till she choked" (12). On another occasion, the same cook is forced to eat the corn mush into which the sick family dog has salivated. Like Christ, who while on the cross asks for water and is given vinegar instead (John 19:28-9), hungry slaves are refused food and alternatively poisoned by their oppressors.

Narratives of slavery relate even more shocking incidents of abuse in which feeding is perniciously reversed, blaspheming the sacrament of communion and ultimately presenting the slave's body as an object of consumption by the slaveholder--a subsumption of the slave's identity into the master's. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, we learn that Prue's mistress refused to allow her to feed her infant, who eventually starved to death. She explains to Uncle Tom her initial delight with her "likely and fat" new baby and the ensuing tragedy:
 But Misses tuck sick, and I tended her, and I tuck the fever, and
 my milk all left me, and the child it pined to skin and bone, and
 Misses wouldn't buy milk for it. She said she knowed I could feed
 it on what other folks eat; and the child kinder pined, and cried,
 and cried, and cried, day and night, and got all gone to skin and
 bones ... [Misses] wished it was dead, she said; and she wouldn't
 let me have it o' nights ... She made me sleep in her room; and I
 had to put it away off in a little kin o' garret, and thar it cried
 itself to death, one night. (324)


After this great tragedy, Prue exchanges food for alcohol "to keep its crying out of my ear! I did,--and I will drink!" (324). The aforementioned cook in Jacobs's narrative is similarly locked up "away from her nursing baby, for a whole day and night" (13). Starving slaves who stole food were subject to hideous punishment by the same masters who had withheld food. Jacobs tells of the violent "Mr. Litch" who kills two slaves after finding stolen food in their quarters. Another account relates a bizarre punishment ordered by Mr. Litch involving food as the means of torture: hungry slaves accused of stealing food are tied up under a suspended piece of pork fat, and "[a]s this cooked, the scalding drops of fat continually fell on the bare flesh" (46). Most sadistic are those punishments in which the slave is literally consumed. The well-trained bloodhounds of the brother of Mr. Litch, when "let loose on a runaway" "tore the flesh from his bones" (47); and another wealthy slaveholder punishes a slave by having him tied to the cotton gin where rats devour him (49).

As Mary Titus points out, "the obscene appetites and unnatural practices that characterize white food use in both Jacobs and Douglass point to the obscene, unnatural transformation of human beings into consumable slaves" (19). While Titus reads such practices as a grotesque reversal of the tradition of Southern hospitality, Jacobs more specifically labels them as not merely hypocritical but demonic and evil. Of the latter slaveholder, she comments he "boasted the name and standing of a Christian, though Satan never had a truer follower" (49). She delineates the depraved appetite of her own master with a biblical metaphor revealing his satanic nature: "For my master, whose restless, craving, vicious nature roved about day and night, seeking whom to devour, had just left me, with stinging, scorching words" (18). She echoes the Apostle Peter's warning in his epistle written to persecuted Christians: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (I Pet. 5:8). Jacobs identifies with the lion's prey, the persecuted Christian, and contradicts her master's hypocritical claim to Christianity by identifying him with the devil. She in turn longs for her master's demise through a similar, though divinely ordained, consumption: "I thought how glad I should be, if some day when he walked the earth, it would open and swallow him up, and disencumber the world of a plague" (18).

Simon Legree in Uncle Tom's Cabin epitomizes the consuming slaveholder who will settle for nothing less than the slave's total objectification and dissolution--a complete erasure of his subjectivity. Proud of his unsentimental and supposedly pragmatic approach to slave purchasing, Legree explains to a fellow traveler his conspicuous consumption of slaves:

"I don't go for savin' niggers. Use up, and buy more, 's my way;--makes you less trouble, and I'm quite sure it comes cheaper in the end;" and Simon sipped his glass.

"And how long do they generally last?" said the stranger.

"Well, donno; 'cordin' as their constitution is. Stout fellers last six or seven years; trashy ones gets worked up in two or three ... When one nigger's dead, I buy another; and I find it comes cheaper and easier, every way" (485)

But Legree violates his own economic principles when he beats Tom so badly that he cannot work in the fields when his labor is most needed; and Legree ultimately kills him, cutting off several years' use of his valuable investment. By doing so, Legree reveals a psychological motivation more diabolical than mere profiteering: the master's need to so dominate the other that the other's identity is completely devoured. Cassy understands this more powerful dynamic when she warns Uncle Tom, "but now you've got his ill will upon you, to follow you day in, day out, hanging like a dog on your throat,--sucking your blood, bleeding away your life, drop by drop" (541).

Legree's need to dominate Uncle Tom even when economically unsound parallels Dr. Flint's obsession with Harriet Jacobs, evinced by the financial losses (far exceeding Jacobs' capital worth) he incurs as a result of his several trips to the North in search of her. Jacobs provides insight into the dominator's psychology by relating the story of "Luke" the runaway slave whose bed-ridden master had tortured him with whippings and "the strangest freaks of despotism ... of a nature too filthy to be repeated" (192). The sexually sadistic master eventually died, and Luke made his escape to the North. When Jacobs warns him about the newly passed Fugitive Slave Law and New York's zeal to comply, he explains,
 De risk ain't so bad for me, as 'tis fur you. 'Cause I runned away
 from de speculator, and you runned away from the de massa. Dem
 speculators vont spen dat money to come here fur a runaway, if dey
 ain't sartin sure to put dar hans right on him. An I tell you I's
 tuk good car 'bout dat. (193)


Luke understands the difference between the speculator's purely economic motivation and the master driven by more complicated psychological dynamics. These oppressors' need to subsume the identities of their slaves into their own relates to issues of incorporation and merged identity that can be read as violations of the feeding ethic within Christian orthodoxy.

The contrast in the three narratives between Christian communal rituals surrounding consumption of food and their gross perversion in the consumption of slaves or subordinates returns us to the issue of the incorporation of Christ into one's body in the sacrament of communion. Jesus' words to his disciples, "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me and I in him" (John 6:56, emphasis added), seem to signify a mutuality that does not presuppose loss of identity, but rather, gain. Such communion can signify an elasticity of the boundaries between subjects, facilitating a mutual identification that, instead of an incorporation of one identity into another, comprises a supplementation of subjectivity characteristic of a healthy self in relation. Such a connection with the other supplements, rather than diminishes, the self in a mutual act bearing the characteristics of empathy as defined by feminist psychologists. Empathy, defined as "the inner experience of sharing in and comprehending the momentary psychological state of another person" (R. Schaefer in Jordan, "Women and Empathy" 29), involves "vicarious introspection," flexible self-boundaries, creativity, and imagination, and actually supplements the understanding of both self and other (Jordan, "Empathy and Self-Boundaries" 69):
 Empathy is central to an understanding of that aspect of the self
 which involves we-ness, transcendence of the separate, disconnected
 self. It is, in fact, the process through which one's experienced
 sense of basic connection and similarity to other humans is
 established. (68-69)


The complementary outcome of such a "joining process" is that "one develops a more articulated and differentiated image of the other and hence responds in a more accurate and specific way" (73). (16) If, as Janet Surrey claims, the "ability to be in relationship appears to rest on the development of the capacity for empathy in both or all persons involved" (53), then Christ's communion injunction signifies a call to relationship and an ethos of nurturing the connections that comprise relationship.

Sentimental narratives privilege the flexibility of identity boundaries necessary for empathy and intimate relationship, but the texts approach such relationships differently because of the varying perspectives of the authors concerning identity and self-sacrifice, attitudes toward the vulnerability such relationship represents, and the possibility of complete dissolution of identity by a dominant other. In The Wide, Wide, World, Ellen's purpose seems to lie in relinquishing her identity in complete self-abnegation; the text presents fluidity of identity boundaries as complete loss of identity in a merger that is alternately satisfying, thrilling, and terrifying. At the beginning of the novel, Ellen declares the complete surrender of her subjectivity to her mother:
 Why, Mamma,--in the first place I trust every word you
 say--entirely--I know nothing could be truer: if you were to tell
 me black is white, mamma, I should think my eyes had been mistaken.
 Then everything you tell or advise me to do, I know it is right,
 perfectly. And I always feel safe when you are near me, because I
 know you'll take care of me. And I am glad to think I belong to
 you, and you have the management of me entirely, and I needn't
 manage myself, because I know I can't; and if I could, I'd rather
 you would, mamma. (18)


While declarations of this type are characteristic of children's deep trust in their parents, such self abnegation can be seen in all Ellen's various relationships into adulthood. Jane Tompkins comments on Ellen's loss of self in the text: "The ideal to which the novel educates its heroine and its readers is the opposite of self-development and self-realization, it is to become empty of self, an invisible transparency that nevertheless is miraculously responsible for the life in everything" ("Afterword" 598).

While Ellen's level of self-denial is extreme, even for a sentimental novel, such intimate, "merger" moments in sentimental texts are common. In Harriet Jacobs's narrative, the women are frequently in each others' arms (or "bosoms"), and the bonds between women are so strong that Jacobs's grandmother initially talks Harriet out of escaping because she cannot imagine her separation from her household and her children. (17) In Uncle Tom's Cabin, as Eliza flees her pursuers, she clutches her son to herself and their bodies seem merged: "How the touch of those warm arms, the gentle breathings that came in her neck, seemed to add fire and spirit to her movements!" (105). Later, at the Birds's, "even in sleep, [Eliza's] arm encircled him with an unrelaxing clasp, as if she could not even then be beguiled of her vigilant hold" (147). And, of course, Stowe's novel ends with a plethora of unions and reunions between women, mothers and their children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters.

What differentiates The Wide, Wide, World from Uncle Tom's Cabin and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is the extent to which Warner presents Ellen Montgomery's domination and subjugation by others as titillating, as Jane Tompkins observes: "For all its exaltation of passivity and turning the other cheek, its central situation, repeated over and over again, is the violation of one human being by another.... Witnessing the process of subjugation, not once, but time after time, we lend ourselves, emotionally, to it even as we are horrified" (Afterword" 599). This simultaneous revulsion from and attraction to complete domination by another relates to what feminist psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin says is the subject's need for recognition. The dominator needs, and demands, recognition from the other; but because of the simultaneous denial of the personhood and / or equality of the other that this domination represents, the dominator can never receive the recognition he or she craves and the identity such recognition confers. By stepping up the domination, the dominator hopes to gain the recognition not received at more mild levels of control; but the oppression degrades the other even more, thus nullifying any recognition that may be granted. The person who submits to such domination, according to Benjamin, does so with the belief that with increasing levels of submission will come more recognition, but because the dominator does not perceive that person as an equal, such recognition can never be adequately conferred. Nevertheless, the humiliation involved in this process can be attractive because of this desire and need for recognition. This paradigm comprises what Susan Griffin identifies as the basic pornographic situation, "in which one person is robbed by another of everything that makes him or her a human being and is reduced to the status of an object" (qtd. in Tompkins, "Afterword" 599), an object, when used in conjunction with food imagery, which is then consumed by the dominating other.

Susan Warner's theology features a God who often dominates in just such a controlling manner. (18) In Warner's novel, all godly women spiritually submit themselves to God and physically submit their bodies to their dominators in a self-abnegating, abject servitude that precludes mutuality in relationship. The text presents women's merged identity with God, or god-figures, as blissful--a jouissance--while complete subsumption of Ellen's identity by the men in the novel signifies an erotic and brutal sexuality, as suggested by the "godly" John's skill with the whip and his renowned ability to break and train wild horses, and the controlling Uncle Lindsay's goal to break Ellen's spirit and orient her completely to himself. In The Wide, Wide World, what Jessica Benjamin identifies as the necessary tension of the mutual intersubjective relationship has broken down, resulting in relationships of domination and subordination.

Nurturing Identity

While some sentimental narratives, like The Wide, Wide World, experiment with the thrills of merger and suspension of individual identity, Uncle Tom's Cabin and especially Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl are overshadowed with the dangers of involuntary loss of identity--the trespass of one's physical and psychological boundaries by a consuming other. Stowe, by virtue of her hatred of slavery and her latent feminism, recognized the dangers of domination. While endorsing Uncle Tom's passive resistance, she emphasizes the assertion of his identity. Although her presentation of the submissive Uncle Tom has devolved into a negative stereotype and a derogatory appellative, a careful examination of Uncle Tom's subjectivity in the last part of the narrative shows a balancing of his Christian submissiveness with a stubborn refusal to violate his principles, an assertion of his subjectivity, and a concerted, effective resistance to Simon Legree. Marianne Noble cites the depiction of Tom's religious exultation upon his death at the hands of Legree as an example of Calvinist discourse promoting blissful and ecstatic merger with God--the thrilling loss of self which the text refers to as the "all":
 He did not know but that the day of his death was dawning in the
 sky; and his heart throbbed with solemn throes of joy and desire,
 as he thought that the wondrous all ... might all break upon his
 vision before that sun should set again. (538)


But the "all" Noble acknowledges does not involve self-abnegation in the context of the story. The threat to Tom's selfhood comes after this scene, when he returns to the fields and, in his pain and weakness, cannot sustain his connection with his fellow slaves that facilitates his own identity in relation. Only at this point in the narrative, when "there was no time for him to commune with anybody," does he suffer a crisis of identity. He "would crush back to his soul bitter thoughts" and sit in "utter dejection" (553). The "placid, sunny temper, which had been the habitude of his life" abandons him (552). Noble acknowledges the effects of Tom's isolation: "Separation from God and other people is inimical to the deepest forms of human fulfillment, as Stowe indicates when isolation leads Tom to the brink of atheism" (137). As Uncle Tom nears despair, he experiences a vision of the suffering Christ, "crowned with thorns, buffeted and bleeding" with "deep, pathetic eyes" that awakens his soul "with floods of emotion" (554). His vision of the empathizing Christ and the return of emotion lead to another ecstatic moment more explicitly described as a "merger" experience: "From this time, an inviolable sphere of peace encompassed the lowly heart of the oppressed one,--an ever-present Savior hallowed it as a temple ... the human will, bent, and bleeding, and struggling long, was now entirely merged in the Divine" (556). Such passages of merger with God are characteristic of what Noble identifies as a masochistic tendency in Calvinist discourse calling for the loss of self in favor of the presence of God. Such a discourse does dominate The Wide, Wide World, particularly in Ellen's attempt to suppress her passion, anger, emotions, and resistance to injustice, that is, her subjectivity. Less of self, more of thee, oh God, represents her creed, a popular one among many nineteenth-century Christians. But while this thinking may be present at one level in Stowe's narrative, the result of Uncle Tom's "merger" experience is presented as returning him to his characteristic self: "Cheerfulness and alertness seemed to return to him, and a quietness which no insult or injury could ruffle" (emphasis added, 556). The compassion and deep sympathy for others that he has exhibited throughout the narrative also return to him; and he fosters even deeper relationships with his fellow slaves. As Tom lies dying, Sambo and Quimbo repent their torture and attempt to make him more comfortable, the rest of the slaves mourn, and George Shelby returns as a representative of Uncle Tom's earlier relationships; thus the Uncle Tom who dies has not lost his identity but, rather, possesses a strength of identity confirmed by a multitude of past and present connections and relationships.

Harriet Beecher Stowe extols Aunt Marthy-type women and slaves like Uncle Tom whose resistance is confined to the spiritual level, but she also endorses the strong subjectivities of the proactive, resisting George and Eliza and other sacrificing but civilly disobedient mothers who assert themselves by acting against the evils of slavery. "For Stowe," says Gillian Brown, "domestic self-denial and feminist self-seeking can be complementary modes ... maternal power manifests itself in both sacrifice and rebellion, temporality and eternity" (515). In Stowe's biblical commentary, Women in Sacred History (1874), she articulates a role for women that asserts a forceful identity; she praises "that pure ideal of a sacred woman springing from the bosom of the family, at once wife, mother, poetess, leader, inspirer, prophetess" (1). Cassy represents such a woman who, having been encouraged by Uncle Tom to use her intellect and cunning to plot escape, delivers herself and Emmeline from the evil Legree. Stowe also balances Tom's Christian pacifism with Eliza's active and George Harris's militant resistance as if to show that resistance to oppression takes as many forms as there are subjectivities of resistors.

Because Harriet Jacobs knew firsthand the threat of complete domination by a violently oppressive other and fought determinedly for her own identity, she is much more careful not to romanticize or eroticize self-effacement. She stubbornly pointed to the evil of those societal structures that thwarted true nurturing, and she condemned any form of consumption of a human being, psychological or physical. While she valorizes her grandmother's perseverance and more passive resistance, she privileges her own claim to human rights. In its entirety, her narrative represents an assertion of her "determined will" and an affirmation of her stated resolve "never to be conquered" by those who hold power over her (85). Jacobs's prolonged attempts to resist her master's sexual harassment evince such determination; her strategies to evade his advances reflect her brilliance, courage, and selfconfidence. In her voluntary sexual liaison with Mr. Sands, intended to hold Dr. Flint at bay, she quickly learns that in spite of his affection, he holds too much power for her to trust him. Although she empathizes on one level with Mrs. Flint, who must suffer the humiliation of her husband's extensive infidelity, she never lowers her guard, even at her most vulnerable moments. When demanded by Mrs. Flint to give an account of Dr. Flint's advances, Jacobs reads her response accurately and withdraws her initial sympathy:
 As I went on with my account her color changed frequently, she
 wept, and sometimes groaned. She spoke in tones so sad, that I was
 touched by her grief. The tears came to my eyes; but I was soon
 convinced that her emotions arose from anger and wounded pride. She
 pitied herself as a martyr; but she was incapable of feeling for
 the condition of shame and misery in which her unfortunate,
 helpless slave was placed. (33)


Jacobs recognizes the narcissistic nature of Mrs. Flint's grief and knows she is incapable of extending empathy to the slave girl.

Impressively, Jacobs recognized some of the risks and limits of empathy in terms of identity and arrogation of the subjectivity of the other. Once in the North, Jacobs develops empathic, strong relationships with both the first and second "Mrs. Bruce" but she never surrenders herself so completely as to entrust them with all the details of her past; nor does she ever confide in Mr. Bruce. She also sees through the repeated attempts of the Flints in their letters professing their love and begging for her return. Knowing the nature of nurturing and mutuality, domination and oppression, Jacobs never confuses them. Moreoever, she exhibits awareness of the problem of the fluid boundary between empathy and overidentification, in which one's sympathy is more accurately a projection of one's own feelings onto another. When she hides away with her friend Fanny on the boat that will deliver them from slavery, Fanny gently reminds her of her separate subjectivity and experience: '"We have the same sorrows" said I. 'No" replied [Fanny], 'you are going to see your children soon, and there is no hope that I shall ever even hear from mine'" (157). This serves as a warning to Jacobs and her readers, lest they view other's sorrows as merely a projection of their own.

Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harriet Jacobs both reject the notion of sacrifice as its own virtue and instead endorse the service, the nurturing acts, one voluntarily provides on behalf of others and, further, advocate whatever resistance becomes necessary for preservation of the self. That is, their narratives do not endorse any form of consumption of identity--incorporation of one identity into another--and yet they acknowledge the voluntary labor and service, what they call "sacrifice" one chooses to render for others. Neither Eva nor Uncle Tom dies because death and suffering themselves hold virtue. As discussed, Eva's death, caused by slavery's evils, confirms these evils to those who have refused to acknowledge them; and her death further facilitates the redemption of those who love her. Likewise, Uncle Tom suffers his beatings because he has acted on behalf of others: he refuses to whip other slaves and, later, he refuses to reveal Cassy's plan of escape. Harriet Jacobs offers her labor and her service, her body, for her children, but she equally maintains that the excessive level of sacrifice required arises from the injustices of slavery. She submits only when expedient, but she actively resists whenever she believes it will be effective. Tom's resistance to Simon Legree represents a refusal to recognize Legree's authority over him, very much like Harriet Jacobs's refusal to recognize Dr. Flint. In each case, the master's rage reveals the effectiveness of such resistance. Dr. Flint's inability to extract psychological recognition from Harriet Jacobs results in a lifelong obsession. (Recognition from one with such a strong sense of identity makes it much more valuable.) Similarly, we see Legree's fiercest rage once he "could not hide from himself that his power over his bond thrall was somehow gone" (558). Narratives of slavery are filled with similar accounts of slaves who, while under the physical power of the master, refuse to grant them psychological recognition, a potent form of nonviolent resistance. Elizabeth Janeway argues that the "first power" of the oppressed is the "ordered use of the power to disbelieve" including the "refusal to accept the definition of oneself that is put forward by the powerful" (41,161). Uncle Tom (and George, Eliza, and Cassy) and Harriet Jacobs reject their respective masters' definition of them as possessions and instead assert a self they will not allow to be swallowed up.

Communion and Reunion

Returning to the image of the sacramental bread, we can see how Christian sentimental narratives literally interpret the trope of Christian Communion. Women and slaves, and especially mothers, offer a part of themselves, emotionally and physically, through full empathic identification with the beloved. Such elasticity of boundaries, implied in the ritual taking of the communion bread, carries positive connotations in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Uncle Tom's Cabin only as long as agency resides in the person who chooses to sacrifice. This notion perhaps can be seen as a correlative of the Christian doctrine of the free will of the individual. Challenges to the doctrine of the elect (predestination) characteristic of the Second Great Awakening resulted in more pronounced views of God as ordaining human agency and respecting human subjectivity. (19) Concurrently, the God-human relationship was viewed as analogous to the ideal mother-child relationship in which the mother respects and nurtures the child's subjectivity and eschews brute domination. Susan Warner's much more puritanical and patriarchally informed theology does not privilege such agency and choice and instead posits a God who demands complete self-abnegation and ordains suffering to elicit obedience. Oppression, in Warner's theology, must be suffered for its ultimate beneficial effects according to God's faithfulness and providence. In this light, the communion ritual involves a loss of self, an effacement that she finds both terrifying and thrilling, rather than a mutual indwelling.

Although all three narratives interpret the repercussions of merger on identity differently, they reach the same conclusion that death represents the ultimate and final reunion with their loved ones and with their God. For the heroes of Stowe, Jacobs, and Warner, such reunion would represent a fullness and completion of identity inasmuch as the death of loved ones signifies the loss of a portion, or aspect, of one's identity, reinstateable only through reunion and reconciliation, just as theologically Christ's death, reenacted in the Communion ritual in which the partaker joins with Christ, effects the spiritual goal of ultimate reconciliation with God. Harriet Jacobs several times expresses her preference for death and the reunion with her parents it would bring over her continued oppression by her master, and she claims her two children represent her only tie to life (62, 78, 127). Stowe entitles the chapter relating the deathbed conversion of Augustine St. Clare "Reunion" for, at the moment of death, he sees his mother and enters into eternal union with her and her God. Death represents in the Christian sentimental narrative a return "home," where Mother, who gives and nurtures life, reigns with God and enables reunion with loved ones. This reunion with family, complementing the believer's reconciliation with God, endorses and consecrates the domestic arena and maternal sacrifice and, more importantly, identifies the nurturing woman with God, as Gillian Brown notes: "In Stowe's abolitionist employment of sentimental motifs, death re-creates the family by sheltering it in heavenly matriarchy.... Mothers, or God, heal the rupture; they restore and reconstitute the family away from the fallen world. Dying, therefore, becomes the ultimate domestic act in this book of many domestic activities" (520). In The Wide, Wide World, Ellen must learn to wait patiently for the promise of reunion with her mother and Alice Humphreys through death, which will "bring her to that home where parting cannot be" (64). Food imagery, then, acts as a signifier of the sacrament of Communion pointing to the ultimate reconciliation and reunion of the believer with God and Mother. These texts play and replay this union and reunion through the godly provision of food while condemning ungodly subversions of feeding and consumption, thereby maintaining the sanctity of the Christian Communion ritual.

Calvin College

WORKS CITED

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Benjamin, Jessica. The Bonds of Love. New York: Pantheon, 1988.

Bloom, Carol, and Laura Kogel. "Tracing Development: The Feeding Experience and the Body." Eating Problems. Eds. Carol Bloom, et al. New York: Basic, 1994. 40-56.

Brown, Gillian. "Getting in the Kitchen With Dinah: Domestic Politics in Uncle Tom's Cabin" American Quarterly 36.4 (1984): 503-23.

Cohen, Paula. The Daughter's Dilemma. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1993.

Douglas, Ann. The Feminization of American Culture. New York: Knopf, 1977.

Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom. New York: Dover, 1969. Foster, Edward Halsey. Susan and Anna Warner. Boston: Twayne / G.K. Hall, 1978.

Gutwill, Susan. "Women's Eating Problems: Social Context and the Internalization of Culture" Eating Problems. Ed., Carol Bloom, et al. New York: BasicBooks, 1994. 1-27.

--. "The Diet: Personal Experience, Social Condition, and Industrial Empire." Eating Problems. Ed., Carol Bloom, et al. New York: BasicBooks, 1994. 28-39.

Herndl, Diane Price. Invalid Women: Figuring Feminine Illness in American Fiction and Culture, 1840-1940. Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP, 1993.

Jacobs, Harriet A. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Ed. Lydia Maria Child, 1861. Ed. Jean Fagan Yellin. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987.

Janeway, Elizabeth. Powers of the Weak. New York: Knopf, 1980.

Jordan, Judith. "Empathy and Self-Boundaries" Eds. Jordan, et al. Women's Growth in Connection. New York: Guilford, 1991.67-80.

--. Janet Surrey, and Alexandra Kaplan. "Women and Empathy: Implications for Psychological Development and Psychotherapy." Eds. Jordan, et al. Women's Growth in Connection. New York: Guilford, 1991.27-50.

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Marsden, George M. The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience: A Case Study of Thought and Theology in Nineteenth-Century America. New Haven: Yale UP, 1970.

Matheson, George. "The Feminine Ideal of Christianity," Biblical World 12 (1898): 29-36, 90-98.

Mitchell, Stephen. Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis: An Integration. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1988.

Naranjo-Huebl, Linda. "I's and Thou's: Intersubjectivity in Nineteenth-Century American Sentimental Fiction." Diss., U of Colorado, 2001.

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NOTES

(1) On the role of food in Incidents, also see Anne Bradford Warner and Mary Titus.

(2) All three authors identify themselves as Christians, and their narratives clearly reflect their knowledge of the Bible and Christian theology. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Congregationalism, with some Anglican influence, is well known. Susan Warner was a devoted (New Light) Presbyterian (see Anna Warner). Harriet Jacobs attended many churches of different denominations in her lifetime. Her children (and probably Jacobs as well) were baptized in St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Upon her escape to the north, Jacobs attended and conducted antislavery work in conjunction with several churches (see lean Fagan Yellin, Harriet Jacobs). The biblical allusions in her narrative (more numerous than those in Warner's and Stowe's novels) evince her extensive knowledge of the Bible, undoubtedly attained in large part during her six years of hiding. This essay does not seek to examine the details of each of the writers' theology; rather, it focuses on popular Christian imagery (the sacrament of communion, the devil) and discourse of the period as documented by the work of other scholars (see Douglas, Kibbey, Marsden, Matheson, Naranjo-Huebl, Tompkins, and Welter).

(3) "Mrs. Flint" is the fictional name Jacobs ascribes to Mary Horniblow Norcom. I find it difficult to refer to Jacobs herself as "Linda Brent" knowing her story to be both autobiographical and accurately portrayed (see Jean Fagan Yellin, "Introduction" to Incidents, on the historical accuracy of Jacobs's narrative). Therefore, I use her name rather than the pseudonym "Linda Brent" while retaining the pseudonyms of the other characters.

(4) All biblical quotes are from the King James Version, the version most frequently quoted in the subject narratives.

(5) One might question the use of Harriet Jacobs's autobiographical text alongside fictional narratives of slavery, but as the Oxford Companion to African American Literature points out, "Breaking taboos to present her sexual history in slavery, Jacobs wrote a woman-centered slave narrative that, emphasizing family relationships and incorporating the forms of the domestic novel, reshaped the genre to encompass female experience" (Andrews, Foster, and Harris 394). One way Jacobs "reshapes" domestic fiction is in her refusal to engage, at any level, in a romanticization or eroticization of domination and / or subordination. Her text proves invaluable in my discussion as its depiction of Jacobs's real life experience challenges the moments of romanticization and eroticization that are seen in the narratives of Stowe (on a mild level) and Warner (on a more sustained level) in relation to consumption or effacement of identity. Additionally, Jacobs's explicit mention of the Lord's Supper suggests her insight into the hypocritical and pathological participation in the sacrament by her owners.

(6) Contemporary psychological / psychoanalytic theorists point out that the primary caretaker need not be the mother, but in nineteenth-century America, most mothers assumed the primary care of children.

(7) Object relations theory and self psychology both represent important progressions beyond Freudian intrapsychic models that failed to consider the significance of the interaction between self and other in psychological development. Relational psychology, according to Stephen Mitchell, grows out of object relations theory and self psychology, and its most significant contribution is an understanding of how the "self" is "embedded in a matrix of relations with other people, struggling both to maintain our ties to others and to differentiate ourselves from them" (3). The terms self-in-relation, identity in relation, and relational self are often used to signify a coherent, stable sense of self defined within relationship that counterposes the view that the "self" is entirely individuated from others. For further connections between feminist psychological theories and nineteenth-century Christian and sentimental thought, see Linda Naranjo-Huebl, chapter 2.

(8) See Barbara Welter, Ann Douglas, and George Matheson on the "feminization" of Christianity in nineteenth-century American theology and popular culture. Ann Douglas cites the popular Rev. Horace Bushnell as an exemplary influence in this feminization of Christianity. She notes Bushnell's observation that "the Savior's suffering can be 'nothing strange' to us because we witness it daily in the responses of a mother to her child" (Douglas 128).

(9) Cohen's study compares the structure of the family with the structure of the rising popular novel. She cites Eva as an example of the anorexic daughter and pairs her with Cassy, the "hysteric" who exposes the family dysfunction not by wasting away but through her "madness." In Diane Price Herndl's study of invalid women in nineteenth-century literature, she notes, "[t]hroughout domestic novels, women fall ill and die as a result of the bad behavior of men" (47). In this case, Stowe shows Eva dying as a result of the bad behavior of slaveholders.

(10) Mrs. Montgomery is an excellent example of the invalid woman identified in Price Herndl's study who suffers the debilitating effects of male dominance, that is, patriarchal culture is "potentially sickening for women" (7). The narrative presents Mr. Montgomery as cold, unfeeling, controlling, and even cruel in his treatment of his wife and daughter. She is an example of Stowe's observation (quoted above), which Herndl also notes, that the "sins of the beloved" are played out in the suffering of the bodies of wives and mothers.

(11) Apparently, proper middle-class young ladies also live by writing implements, books, a small desk, and new clothing, which she also purchases for Ellen. See Tompkins ("Afterword") and Nancy Schnog on the cultural significance of Mrs. Montgomery's purchases for Ellen.

(12) Susan Warner's interpretation of the maternal role in the salvation of her offspring was undoubtedly deeply influenced by the loss of her own mother in childhood.

(13) On John Humphrey as representing Warner's idea of God (stern and authoritarian) in the text, see Marianne Noble (chapter 3) and Naranjo-Huebl (chapter 4).

(14) Susan Warner highly valued such depictions. Her sister Anna recounts a notation in one of Susan's journals: "I have been amused by a little book 'An Excursion to the Monasteries of Alcobaca and Batallia,' by Mr. Beckford. The account of their dinners and suppers is enough to make one's mouth water. I love to read about good eating" (158). Anna adds, "As afterwards she liked to write about it. It has been amusing enough, to get letters from strangers here and there, asking for receipts for the biscuit on which 'Captain Parry' set his paw; for 'splitters,' and 'the cake Desire made'" (158).

(15) See Noble (chapter 3) and Naranjo-Huebl (chapter 4) on the masochistic tendencies of Warner's view of Christian self-abnegation.

(16) In Christian sentimental literature, the figure of Christ both exemplifies the sympathy privileged by the sentimental ethos and represents the literal embodiment of God's sympathy with humans. In orthodox Christian theology (the shared tenets of the primary branches of Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Christianity), Christ as God incarnate represents, on one level, God's move to more completely identify (and thus empathize) with the human other, an identification so complete that he vicariously experiences both their sin and the consequences of that sin. As such, the figure of Christ can be read as the extension of God's subjectivity.

(17) Jacobs and her daughter experienced a similar bond; once reunited in the North after her daughter's schooling, they lived together for the rest of Jacobs's life (see Jean Fagan Yellin, Harriet Jacobs).

(18) Marianne Noble, in her study of masochism in the sentimental novel, examines in detail how The Wide, Wide World reflects Calvinist discourse of the period featuring such a relationship between the believer and God. On Warner's Christianity, see Anna Warner and Edward Halsey Foster.

(19) See George Marsden on the challenges to Puritan theology and American "Calvinism" posed by the Second Great Awakening.
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