Cagney Ryan
Northern Illinois University
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Pursued to the Altar (1883) Spotlight

About the Novel

Beryl Ward, The Belle of Chicago; or; Pursued to the Altar, The Story of a Girl’s Bitter Mistake examines the romantic entanglements of the beautiful and wealthy Beryl Ward and her father’s clerk, Fennel Gray. The daughter of a prominent Chicago politician, Beryl has been promised against her will to the wealthy and handsome Norman Bistrow, but falls instead for Fennel. When Fennel discovers that Bistrow may be committing adultery, broken hearts, several failed weddings, and mistaken deaths ensue.

Like much sentimental fiction of the day, Pursued to the Altar focuses on female sexual endangerment. Beryl, a young virtuous maiden, is pursued through subterfuge by Norman Bistrow. Beryl challenges this threat by pursuing Fennel, who rejects her because another man has already claimed her.

Pursued to the altar cover

"There, indeed, she stands, struck into statue-like paleness and stillness by the words she hears!"

Beryl Ward began appearing under the pseudonym Corrine Cushman in the Saturday Journal in October 1879, where it ran for thirteen installments. In June 1880, it was published in its entirety in Fireside Library no. 65, then reprinted on May 22, 1883 in Waverly Library (quarto edition) no. 184.

About the Author

Born Metta Victoria Fuller near Erie, Pennsylvania, Victor was the third out of five children. In 1839, the family moved to Wooster, Ohio, where Victor attended female seminary. She was married in 1850 or 1851 to a man named Morse in Ypsilanti, Michigan. What happened to Morse is unknown, because in 1856 she was married to Orville J. Victor, an editor of the Sandusky, Ohio My Register. The two became contributors to many of the leading periodicals of the day. Mr. Victor was far better known for his editorial work for Beadle & Adams, where he published several of his wife’s stories. The Victors had nine children.

Mrs. Metta V. Victor (1831-1885)

Metta Victor published her first story, The Last Days of Tul; A Romance of the Lost Cities of Yucatan, at fifteen years of age while living in Boston. At the same time she was writing for the New York Home Journal under the pseudonym "The Singing Sybil," where she published her first novel, The Tempter. Metta Victor used several pseudonyms throughout her career, including Seeley Register, Corinne Cushman, Eleanore Lee Edwards, Mrs. Orrin James, and Rose Kennedy. One of her most popular novels was written under her real name: Maum Guinea and Her Plantation "Children;" or, Holiday-Week on a Louisiana Estate (1861), a slave narrative praised by President Abraham Lincoln (among other abolitionists). She is perhaps best known today as the author of The Dead Letter, the first full-length work of American detective fiction. Victor was so successful that she demanded a price of $25,000 in 1870 for stories she wrote exclusively for Street & Smith's New York Weekly. She died in 1885 in New Jersey.

Discussion Questions

  • Fennel is surrounded by women throughout the narrative. What does the lack of male-male relationships indicate about his character?
  • Beryl and Fennel marry outside of church. What is the definition of marriage as defined by the novel? Is it a religious or legal pact?
  • Unlike Bistrow and Beryl's match, Fennel's cousin Claire seems morally just and a good match for Fennel. Besides not being in love with her, why doesn't Fennel consider her for a wife?
  • When Beryl's father stops Fennel and Beryl's first wedding, he calls Fennel's honor into question. Why are his honor and moral character more important than the safety and happiness of his lover?

Further Reading

  • Boone, Joseph A. Tradition Counter Tradition: Love and The Form of Fiction (British, American), The University of Wisconsin Madison, Ann Arbor, 1982, Stable URL.

Examines narrative structure in the nineteenth and twentieth-century fiction focused on nontraditional courtship and wedlock plotting. Provides a theoretical overview of how such norms have been perpetuated in the codification of courtship, seduction, and wedlock structures in the marriage tradition.

  • Heilmann, Ann. “The Awakening and New Woman Fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin, edited by Janet Beer, Cambridge UP, 2008, pp. 87–104, Stable URL.

Examines the treatment of female protagonists in relation to the New Woman figure. Touches on sensationalism and adultery within popular narratives. Focuses on Kate Chopin’s "The Awakening" as a case study.

  • Merish, Lori. “Melodrama and American Fiction” Blackwell Companion to American Fiction. Edited by Shirley Samuels. 191-203. 2004.

Provides an overview of American melodrama and the themes present within them. Helps established a checklist of tropes associated with melodrama. Mentions significant works of American melodrama.

  • Women and the World of Dime Novels. American Antiquarian Society, A National Research Library of American Literature, History, and Culture through 1876. Stable URL.

A website dedicated to recurring tropes and characters appearing in women’s dime novels. Created by the American Antiquarian Society, this site provides overviews and samples of specific tropes.