Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on the Women of Genesis

By Marion Ann Taylor; Heather E. Weir | Go to book overview

§38 Susan Warner
(1819–1885)

Susan Warner lived most of her life on Constitution Island near West Point. She received an elite education in New York City, where she was a member of a Presbyterian church. She and her sister, Anna Bartlett Warner, wrote to support themselves after their father's financial failure. Susan Warner wrote many devotional guides, children's books and songs,8 and novels, including the best selling The Wide, Wide World (1850). Warner was active in the American Tract Society, and in her later years taught Bible classes to West Point cadets.9

Warner used all the tools of the male academy in her interpretation of the Bible. She made numerous allusions to a variety of Old and New Testament passages. She used linguistic tools to find the literal sense of the text. She studied the historical and geographical context of a passage to assist her understanding of it. These tools enabled her to delve into deeper theological meanings of scripture. Warner raised many theological issues from the text: the nature of God and God's promises, the doctrine of perfection, a reformed view of baptism, and eschatology.

Warner wrote Walks from Eden as a family conversation about the book of Genesis. Four children, their grandmother, and uncle stayed in the country one September in "a great tract of unbroken mountain and woodland." The narrator, Tiny, her sister Priscilla, and their brothers, Eliphalet (Liph) and Daniel, discussed Genesis with their uncle, Sam, and their grandmother. In the part of the conversation reproduced here, Hagar was the key character under discussion.

Just as Aguilar and Moise read the story of Hagar through the lens of their own social and cultural position, so Warner wrote as an American woman before the Civil War. She read Hagar with the model of American slavery in her mind. Warner went so far as to describe Hagar as having a "pretty black head." Warner's racism was not limited to black slaves; she also portrayed Arabs in a negative light.

This book was written with an educational purpose. Warner focused on geographical and historical details, and expanded those where possible. She

8 The Warner sisters included original song lyrics in their stories for children; other people
then set these lyrics to music and they became quite popular. Anna Warner wrote the words to
"Jesus Loves Me." Susan Warner wrote the words to "Jesus Bids us Shine."

9 Patricia Crane, "Warner, Susan," in The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English,
ed. Lorna Sage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 652.

-196-

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