The Minister's Wooing

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The Minister's Wooing
Author Harriet Beecher Stowe
Country United States
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Derby and Jackson (first edition),
Penguin Books (1999 edition)
Publication date
1859 (first book publication)
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback) or Serial
Pages 578 pp (first edition);
349 pp (Penguin paperback, 1999)
ISBN ISBN 0-14-043702-9 (Penguin paperback)
OCLC 40698698
813/.3 21
LC Class PS2954.M5 S76 1999

The Minister's Wooing is a historical novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, first published in 1859. Set in 18th-century New England, the novel explores New England history, highlights the issue of slavery, and critiques the Calvinist theology in which Stowe was raised.[1] Due to similarities in setting, comparisons are often drawn between this work and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850). However, in contrast to Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter, The Minister's Wooing is a "sentimental romance";[2] its central plot revolves around courtship and marriage. Moreover, Stowe's exploration of the regional history of New England deals primarily with the domestic sphere, the New England response to slavery, and the psychological impact of the Calvinist doctrines of predestination and disinterested benevolence.[3]

With its intense focus upon the history, customs, and mannerisms of New England, The Minister's Wooing is one sense an example of the local color writing that proliferated in late 19th century. However, by highlighting the issue of slavery, this time in the north, The Minister's Wooing also represents a continuation of Stowe's earlier anti-slavery novels.[4] Finally, the work serves as a critique of Calvinism, written from the perspective of an individual deeply familiar with the theological system. Stowe's father was the well-known Calvinist minister Lyman Beecher, and Stowe based many aspects of the novel upon events in the lives of herself and her older sister Catharine's life.[5] Throughout the novel, Stowe portrays the reaction of different personality types to the pressures of Calvinist principles, illustrating in this manner what she perceives as Calvinism's strengths and weaknesses.[6] In particular, responding to the untimely death of her sister's fiancé and the death of two of her own children, Stowe addresses the issue of predestination,[7] the idea that individuals were either "saved" or "damned," and only the elect would go to heaven.

Publication History[edit]

The Minister's Wooing was first serialized in the Atlantic Monthly from December 1858 to December 1859, and then published in book form first in England by Sampson Low, Son & Co., and then in the U.S by Derby and Jackson, in order to guarantee British royalties.[8]

Genesis of the Novel[edit]

In 1857, Harriet Stowe's son Henry drowned in the Connecticut River. Like the sailor James in the novel, he was unregenerate at the time of his death. Stowe had first begun to reassess the Calvinist view of salvation after watching her sister Catherine wrestle with the similar loss of an unregenerate fiancé in 1822, and her own son's death spurred further reflection. The grief and doubt experienced by both Harriet and her sister served as the genesis of the novel, and their experience finds its fullest expression in the character of Mrs. Marvyn.[9]

Some readers, including Stowe's own grandson Lyman Beecher Stowe, proclaimed the book to be an assault on Calvinism. Stowe did indeed question the establishment in which she had been raised, but it is evident from her journals that she was not seeking to launch a full attack. Indeed, she expressed a profound respect and admiration for both Calvinist theology and the individuals who grappled with its doctrines.[10] Her stated intent was instead to point out certain flaws and to spread tolerance.[11]

Synopsis[edit]

The story is set in Newport, Rhode Island, when it was still a prospering fishing and shipping town and not a fashionable retreat for the rich. Dr. Hopkins is a 40-year-old minister. Mary is the daughter of his hostess in town, and Hopkins soon falls in love with Mary. Mary is unable to return his affections because she is still in love with James Marvyn, a sailor presumed lost at sea. Mary is a very religious and saintly girl, so after a period of mourning, she decides that she will marry Dr. Hopkins. Mary has other suitors, including Aaron Burr, but she sees that even though he is the grandson of Jonathan Edwards and has been raised in Calvinism, he is mired in evil. James eventually returns from sea and Dr. Hopkins knows that he cannot compete with Mary's love for James. Hopkins calls off the marriage, and Mary and James are free to marry and live happily.[12]

Major Characters[edit]

Minister Samuel Hopkins[edit]

An apostle of Jonathan Edwards’s “New Divinity.” He struggles to maintain his spiritual independence and assert his spiritual authority against the wealthy members of his congregation who merely observe church rules instead of living Christian lives. He is based on the historical Samuel Hopkins, minister at the First Congregational Church of Newport in the late 18th Century, although the events of the story are fictional.[13]

Mary Scudder[edit]

The object of the wooing, and a fictional character, although her story is partly based on that of the author's sister, Catharine Beecher. Mary has given her heart to a seaman who has been lost in a shipwreck and presumed dead. She is a typical Stowe heroine, resigned to her sorrow and bearing her grief as atonement for her sins and those of her lost seaman.

James Marvyn[edit]

Mary’s lost love. He is a seaman who is believed to be dead. Both Mary and his mother agonize over his fate and his salvation. He was not a Christian and therefore according to traditional Calvinist theology irrevocably damned. He eventually returns to Mary, having survived the shipwreck, as not only a Christian but also as a wealthy man.

Mrs. Marvyn[edit]

James’s mother. She finds herself angry with a God who would have ordained the death of her unsaved son. Her despair is only lifted with the help of Mary and her free, black servant Candace who convince her that God is love.

Minor Characters[edit]

Candace[edit]

Mary Scudder’s free black servant. Candace’s displays of integrity and love toward Mrs. Marvyn speak very highly of her character. Mary treats Candace more as a friend and confidant than a servant.

Virginie de Frontenac[edit]

The wife of a French diplomat who falls in love with Aaron Burr. Mary helps Virginie save her marriage and in return, Virginie helps bring Mary and James together. Virginie is a Roman Catholic and served to show the religious tolerance that Stowe had begun to embrace by this time in her life.[14]

Aaron Burr[edit]

Based on the real-life Vice President of the United States, Burr is Jonathan Edwards's grandson. Stowe uses him as an example of some of the ill effects of being raised in Calvinistic fanaticism. Burr attempts to woo Mary as well as Virginie. Mary confronts him with his attempted adultery (pp. 362–363), and he withdraws. But this does not stop him from his "brilliant and unscrupulous political intrigues" and ultimate, total disgrace (p. 428). "Chased from society, pointed at everywhere by the finger of hatred, so accursed in common esteem... one seems to see in a doom so much above that of other men the power of an avenging Nemesis for sins beyond those of ordinary humanity." (p. 428, Hurst & Company edition)

Miss Prissy Diamond[edit]

The town dressmaker and busy body. After James returns to town, Mary still feels it is her duty to marry Minister Hopkins. Miss Prissy takes it upon herself to tell the minister where his future bride’s heart truly lies. Minister Hopkins knows that Miss Prissy is right and Mary should be with the man that she loves, so he calls off the wedding.

External links[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Harris, Susan K. "Introduction," in The Minister's Wooing, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Ed. Susan K. Harris. New York: Penguin Books (1999), viii.
  2. ^ cf. Harris, Susan K. "Harriet (Elizabeth) Beecher Stowe," 1999.
  3. ^ Harris, Susan K. "Introduction," in The Minister's Wooing, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Ed. Susan K. Harris. New York: Penguin Books (1999), viii-xi.
  4. ^ Harris, Susan K. "Introduction," in The Minister's Wooing, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Ed. Susan K. Harris. New York: Penguin Books (1999), xii.
  5. ^ Harris, Susan K. "Harriet (Elizabeth) Beecher Stowe," 1999: ix.
  6. ^ Harris, Susan K. "Introduction," in The Minister's Wooing, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Ed. Susan K. Harris. New York: Penguin Books (1999), xi.
  7. ^ Harris, Susan K. "Harriet (Elizabeth) Beecher Stowe," 1999: xi.
  8. ^ Bell, 1995: 107-108
  9. ^ Harris, Susan K. "Introduction," in The Minister's Wooing, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Ed. Susan K. Harris. New York: Penguin Books (1999), vii.
  10. ^ Stowe, Harriet (1896). The Minister's Wooing. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. pp. 243–248. 
  11. ^ "The Genesis of Harriet Beecher Stowe's 'The Minister's Wooing,'" by Charles Howell Foster, "The New England Quarterly, 1949 pages 495-517.
  12. ^ The Minister's Wooing by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Penguin Books, 1999.
  13. ^ "Harriet Beecher Stowe" by Noel Gerson, Praeger Publishers, 1976, page 130.
  14. ^ "Harriet Beecher Stowe" by Noel Gerson, Praeger Publishers, 1976, page 131.

References and further reading[edit]

  • Adams, John R. Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1963.
  • Bell, Michael Davitt. "Women's Fiction and the Literary Marketplace in the 1850s." The Cambridge History of American Literature. Eds. Sacvan Bercovitch and Cyrus R. K. Patell. Vol. 2. Cambridge England; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 74-123. ISBN 0-521-30106-8
  • Harris, Susan K. “Harriet (Elizabeth) Beecher Stowe.” Discovering Authors 3.0. Gale Group, 1999.
  • Harris, Susan K. "Introduction." The Minister's Wooing. Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. vii-xxiii. ISBN 0-14-043702-9
  • Harris, Susan K. "The Female Imaginary in Harriet Beecher Stowe's the Minister's Wooing." New England Quarterly 66.2 (1993): 179-98.
  • Jackson, Phyllis Wynn. Victorian Cinderella: The Story of Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: H. Wolff Book Manufacturing Company, 1947.
  • Ramirez, Anne West. "Harriet Beecher Stowe's Christian Feminism in the Minister's Wooing: A Precedent for Emily Dickinson." Christianity and Literature, Vol 51, no. 3 (spring 2002): 407-24.