Reading the American Novel, 1780-1865

Reading the American Novel, 1780-1865

Reading the American Novel, 1780-1865

Reading the American Novel, 1780-1865


Reading the American Novel 1780-1865 provides valuable insights into the evolution and diversity of fictional genres produced in the United States from the late 18th century until the Civil War, and helps introductory students to interpret and understand the fiction from this popular period.
  • Offers an overview of early fictional genres and introduces ways to interpret them today
  • Features in depth examinations of specific novels
  • Explores the social and historical contexts of the time to help the readers' understanding of the stories
  • 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
  • Profiles the major authors, including Louisa May Alcott, Charles Brockden Brown, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, alongside less familiar writers such as Fanny Fern, Caroline Kirkland, George Lippard, Catharine Sedgwick, and E. D. E. N. Southworth
  • Selected by Choice as a 2013 Outstanding Academic Title


“Did you ever hit anything human or intelligible?”

James Fenimore Cooper, The Deerslayer (1841)

“Is this the end? Is life as fragile, as frail?”

Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills (1861)

This book pays attention to how fiction works as a historical practice. In particular, it introduces ways to think about novels written in the United States during its early development as a national enterprise and before the historical break we know as the Civil War. The early chapters present an overview of such novels as well as introducing fictional genres; they include possible ways for readers to interpret these genres. The later chapters carry out more specific examinations of particular novels, asking how they establish and develop grounds of inquiry. Such inquiries include stories about murder, seduction, and sea voyages, as well as housekeeping, lamp lighting, and errands into the wilderness. Throughout the book, critical attention is paid to how to interpret a relation between the volatile (and sometimes quiet) events that take place in different locations and at different times, and the stories that people in the United States made up to explain those events and themselves.

To tell stories about the ongoing enterprise we now call the United States engages readers in a relation between history and the narrative events that this book will sometimes take for granted, yet the position of narrative will, of necessity in a book about making fiction, always . . .

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