260 The Female American – Anti-Bibliomancy?

Casey Ouellette

The Female American is a whole novel and I don’t know that I can necessarily tell you everything it does with religion from one passage, but oh my god (pun intended), let’s talk about Unca Eliza’s religious beliefs and upbringing and why it’s important. Unca Eliza represents a kind of complicated religious background because her mother was “pagan,” but her father was a devout Christian. Nevertheless, she was raised for most of her life by her father and uncle, and appears to have gotten the full monty in terms of a Christian upbringing.

You’d expect (and given what we’ve seen of the time thus far, not without reason) that her religious beliefs would be exceptionally skewed. Such as we saw with a certain Mrs. Rowlandson, there’s almost an expectation there that people brought god into all things, “his will be done,” and all that jazz. You could get the impression that the bible in this scenario was used almost like a hall pass for genocide and some other equally questionable behaviors here and there. However, I think Unca Eliza’s narrative works to dissuade that notion. That said, my apologies for this long block quote of Unca Eliza’s uncle’s words:

“Beware… of the practice of some enthusiasts of our times, who make the word of god literally an oracle, by opening of it at particular times, and on particular occasions, presuming that where-ever they open, they are to apply the passage to themselves, or to business they are about; because many have thereby been led into spiritual pride, and others into despair, as they opened on a promise, or a curse; whilst others have but too often, in the same manner, pleaded a warrant from scripture to perpetrate wickedness, or to propagate error Though… happy is the Christian who by a prudent and rational use of the scriptures procures comfort for his soul” (Winkfield 68).

Okay, and we’re back. Unca Eliza’s behavior is very much in line with this way of thinking. She believes this and takes comfort in what she’s read and has been taught, but it’s never a justification for her actions. Which, I think, sets her apart from the characters in other things we’ve read so far. Her belief is perhaps just as firm, and she’s prone to quoting scripture and singing hymns like the best of them, but she’s also an independent woman who makes her own choices and can survive on her own with or without providence.

Finally, it’s this dealing with “Bibliomancy” (the definition’s in the book) that’s so important in context. Because while there were plenty of people who did believe the bible gave them divine insight, it’s important to remember not everyone that read the bible believed that way. Unca Eliza didn’t, nor did her uncle, and the book’s page notes suggest it wasn’t just them either. Religion isn’t a justification for Unca Eliza’s actions in The Female American; it’s a comfort and part of her identity that shapes her experience, and it’s important to remember not everyone justified their acts with religion, and that a number of those that had religion simply acted with their religion in mind.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Casey Ouellette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book