The decades following America's emergence as a free nation were accompanied by a wealth of fiction writing. But what exactly did America's earliest novelists write about? And how do we interpret their works today?
Reading the American Novel 1780–1865, explores the diverse fiction produced in the United States from the late 18th century until the onset of the Civil War. The book provides an overview of early fiction along with in-depth examinations of specific novels, asking how they establish and develop grounds of inquiry. The major authors are featured, including Charles Brockden Brown, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, alongside less familiar writers such as Fanny Fern, Caroline Kirkland, George Lippard, and Catharine Sedgwick. A chapter dedicated solely to popular women's fiction explores works by Louisa May Alcott, Maria Cummins, E. D. E. N. Southworth, Susan B. Warner, and Harriet Wilson. The social and historical contexts of the time are considered in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the stories that evolved to explain those events and help Americans define themselves. The book also explores questions of identity – about the novel, its 19th-century readers, and the emerging structure of the United States – as an important backdrop to understanding American fiction.
Reading the American Novel 1780–1865 offers fascinating insights into the evolution of America's most popular literary genre.