HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Lamplighter
Author: Maria S. Cummins
Publisher: Lamplighter Publishing, republished in 1998
Related website: http://www.lamplighter.net (publisher)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Cummins, Maria S. The Lamplighter (originally published in 1854; republished in 1998 by Lamplighter Publishing, P. O. Box 777, Waverly, PA 18471). When the story opens, Gertrude or Gerty is an eight-year-old orphaned girl in Boston, MA, who is being raised by a mean widow named Nan Grant, whose late husband Ben was a sailor and whose son Stephen is a scoundrel. Gerty finds a kitten to be her pet, but Nan kills it and then throws the sick little Gerty out on the street in the snow. The girl is adopted by the kindly old local lamplighter, Trueman, or True, Flint. He later becomes ill, and Gerty nurses him until he dies. The girl then moves in with their neighbor, Mrs. Sullivan, a widow whose father, the ailing Mr. Cooper, and son William or Willie also live with her. Willie and Gerty become good friends, but he receives employment by which he is sent to India for several years. Gerty then helps nurse Mr. Cooper and after him Mrs. Sullivan through their final illnesses and deaths.
With nowhere else to go, Gerty is adopted by a friend of Mr. Flint and the Sullivans, a charitable blind lady named Emily Graham, and eventually becomes a schoolteacher. While travelling in New York for Emily’s health, they meet a strange, melancholy man who identifies himself as Mr. Phillips. What kind of seemingly coincidental connections have apparently drawn all these people together? How will they affect Gerty and her future? And will she ever see her beloved Willie again? The Lamplighter was a sentimental novel written by Maria Susanna Cummins (April 9, 1827 – October 1, 1866) and published in 1854. It was Cummins’s first novel and was an immediate best-seller, selling 20,000 copies in twenty days, 40,000 in eight weeks, and 65,000 within five months, second in sales only to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was the third American novel to sell over a million copies. One reviewer called it “one of the most original and natural narratives.”
This is a wonderful book which we did as a family read aloud and everyone enjoyed. There are many good qualities displayed throughout the plot. Through the righteous influence of True Flint and then Emily Graham, the wild and hot-tempered Gerty is lovingly raised as she is taught virtues and religious faith. She becomes a godly woman who in adulthood is rewarded for her long suffering. In literary criticism, the story is considered a Bildungsroman, a novel of formation, education, or coming-of-age in which character change for the better is extremely important. There is a lot of emphasis on trusting in God, developing patience, and showing kindness to others. Even though True Flint is not really the main character from a plot standpoint, the book is so titled because the ripples of his thoughtful actions early on are felt throughout. As a result, readers will see how God fills the life of this neglected and dejected little girl with hope as she learns to be a virtuous young woman.