A poor, illegitimate child, by dint of endless determination and uncompromising virtue, gains fame and glory.
Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth (1819-1899), was a popular and prolific American novelist largely ignored by contemporary critics. This novel, serialized in 1863-1864 and published (in two volumes, separately titled Ishmael, or In the Depths and Self-Raised, or From the Depths) in 1876, was, according to a publisher’s note, the author’s favorite. In many obvious ways, it’s just plain bad. The plot is impossible. The characters are unreal—some of them racial stereotypes, affectionate but hard to bear nonetheless. The style is often trite. The author’s didactic purpose intrudes at every turn, sometimes painfully. And yet it’s completely engrossing. Despite its length, the pacing is excellent; the dramatic conflicts are reliably thrilling. And the story, however silly, has the charm of a fairy tale.
“A fervid story of honest, earnest and successful struggles issuing in a noble and generous character and life. The author may be considered a fair critic in estimating it to be chef d’oeuvre.” Zion’s Herald, June 1, 1876.
“There is a curious blending of realism and romance in this work. . . . The leading female characters . . . are drawn with . . . delicate and accurate touches.” Ohio Farmer, June 24, 1876
“Among the more readable novels of the month” by “a well known, half-sensational, half-sentimental author, occupying a prominent, if not very high, situation among American writers.” Saturday Review, August 26, 1876.
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