The Wide, Wide World, Volume 1
Ellen has difficulty believing that God will take care of her when her dying mother leaves her with the unloving Mrs. Dunscombe.
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This is Volume I of a two-volume edition stereotyped by Billin & Brothers and printed by Robert Craighead. "The Wide, Wide, World" was the first American best-seller. Only "Uncle Tom's Cabin" rivaled its sales in the 1800s. Warner's tale of the orphan girl Ellen Montgomery stayed in print for decades, and subsequent authors of stories about girls portrayed their heroines reading the book (Jo March in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women", and Elsie Travilla in Martha Finley's "Elsie's Girlhood").
The publisher, George Putnam, also engaged Craighead and the Billins to produce an illustrated, single-volume edition in 1853. The only WorldCat entries for that edition that cite Billin & Brothers are microfilm copies at the Center for Research Libraries in New York and at the University of Florida.
Susan Warner was born in 1819 in New York City. Her mother died when Susan was a young girl. Her father lost his fortune in a bank panic, and she and her sister, Anna Bartlett Warner, began writing books to help support the family. The manuscript for "Wide, Wide World" was rejected by most of the leading publishers in New York. An editor at Harper and Brothers sent it back with the comment “Fudge!” penciled in the margin. Susan finally approached George P. Putnam, who took the manuscript home with him and asked his mother to see if it was any good. She read it, and told him, “If you never publish another book, publish this.”
It was the best advice he ever took. The book was a huge success in the United States and England. Within two years, "The Wide Wide World" and Susan’s next novel, "Queechy," had sold over 100,000 copies. "Wide, Wide World" became one of the most-widely read books of the nineteenth century, remaining in print for almost 80 years.
Susan and Anna Warner wrote scores of books, separately and together, initially using their grandmothers’ names for pseudonyms. Anna wrote the lyrics to the Christian hymn “Jesus Loves Me,” which first appeared in her book Say and Seal. The devoutly religious sisters never married, living out their lives on an island in the Hudson River, across from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Their uncle was a chaplain at the academy, and the sisters taught Sunday school to the cadets for fifty years. When Susan and Anna grew too old to leave their island, the cadets began rowing over to them on Sunday afternoons for gospel instruction, cookies, and lemonade. When the Warner sisters passed away, they were buried in the military cemetery at West Point.