July 15, 2012

Beneficial to individual virtue and happiness

She started writing the book in 1846, but it was not until 1854 that Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps expanded her novel Ida Norman into a full, two-volume edition. In her preface, dated July 15, 1854, Phelps explains that it began as a series of narratives meant to impart moral lessons on her pupils at the Patapsco Female Institute in Maryland (an institution she founded; she dedicated the book to those same pupils, "wherever they may be, and in whatever condition of life"). She admitted that it is surprising that an educator, especially one who focuses on piety, would write something as base as a novel. Yet, she reminded her readers, "the Great Teacher" used parables in the Bible as well. Regardless of what people think of the story, Phelps wrote:

The author is happy in the belief that it will be, at least, a safe companion for the young, encouraging no morbid sensibilities or sickly fancies, and perverting no principles of morality; but that its tendency, so far as it may have any influence, will be found beneficial to individual virtue and happiness, and the true interests of society.

Critics agreed with her. The writer for the Southern Quarterly Review noted: "There is not a page, — scarcely a sentence, — in the work, that does not embody some useful lesson of instruction." Principally, her lessons are domestic ones: the behavior of children and parents, in particular. The title character Ida Norman is, like her brother, a spoiled teenager who must learn to live a purer life.

Phelps had also published a few textbooks on science and similar topics. As her fame grew as an educator, she moved from her home town in Connecticut to Troy, New York to Westchester Pennsylvania, to New Jersey and, finally, to Maryland. Her preface to Ida Norman was written on her birthday (she was born July 15, 1793). That same day in 1884, she died at the age of 91.

1 comment:

  1. Any woman who survived those woman-hating times to write deserves respect.

    That said, this book sounds like the kind of thing young women would pretend to read while they stowed the French novel under the covers of the bed.