Rush, Caroline E.

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RUSH, Caroline E.

Born circa 1820s; died death date unknown

Married and widowed; children: two

Caroline E. Rush's first novel appeared in 1850. In a preface, she wrote that "the circumstances which have left me, at an early age, a widow, with two orphan boys to educate," forced Rush to write to support herself. However, her books, which were probably published by subscription, "awakened in the hearts of a generous and sympathizing public, a deep and noble interest."

Rush, a native of New York, was able to travel to a number of American cities, and especially to the South—a region whose beauty, climate, and customs she praised highly in nearly all her works. Her fiction is characterized by moral and didactic purpose and by religious and sentimental subject matter, which, the author claimed, was founded strictly on fact.

Robert Morton; or, The Step-Mother (1850, reprinted 1979) is a collection of three short stories. "Edmund and Ione" describes the moral and spiritual regeneration of a wealthy young New York City bachelor whose adoption of two starving orphans leads him to devote his life to helping the needy. "Letters from the South" records a Northern girl's delighted impressions of the scenery, people, and customs of the South. "The Step-Mother" shows how the influence of a cruel and negligent stepmother cancels the teachings of a child's mother, blights his childhood, and ruins his future.

The Dew Drop of the Sunny South; A Story Written From Every Day Life (1851) describes the short but pious life of Kate Herford, a wealthy Southern belle. Jilted by a dissipated fiancé, Kate resigns herself to remaining single, doing good, and spreading Christ's teachings. After converting Caroline, a schoolgirl, Kate quietly dies of consumption. The North and the South; or, Slavery and Its Contrasts (1852, reprinted 1983) develops the proslavery argument that black Southern slaves were better off than poor whites of Northern cities by telling the sad tale of the Harleys, a wealthy New York family impoverished by drink, separated by work, and ruined by starvation, exposure, and the indifference of the well-to-do. Only one of the seven Harley children prospers; she is adopted by an affectionate and generous plantation family. The others—those who survive—are ground down by toil and hardship. The death of the Harleys' pure and lovely eldest daughter, her Christian resignation to starvation and disease, is Rush's strongest statement against wealthy Northerners who feel no Christian charity for the poor.

Way-Marks in the Life of a Wanderer, The Incidents Taken From Real Life (1855, reprinted 1979) describes the edifying life of Marcia Walton, a beautiful and devout Northern governess employed on a Georgia plantation. Although Marcia's gentle nature and piety endear her to the family for whom she works, she is poisoned by the jealous mulatto mistress of the planter's son. Her health is impaired. Adopted into the planter's family, she spends her remaining days traveling throughout the South—spreading love, ending misunderstandings, and practicing Christian teachings. She dies happy, surrounded by the people she loves.

Shallow and inconsistent characterization, frequent digressions, authorial intrusions, and shifts in point of view indicate that Rush's fiction is the work of an amateur. Even so, her books illustrate one of the major concepts of the popular domestic fiction of her day: woman as moral teacher. Rush's heroines are all pious and resigned to low status, poor health, and oppressive circumstances; all are actively involved in spreading the gospel of Christian submission. Their beauty is moral as well as physical; they die young, pure, and certain of eternal life, providing the reader with both pleasurable tears and edifying Christian examples.