Mirrors of the Age: Literary Representations and the Making of an American Public, 1794-1810
Notes and resources for a paper prepared for delivery at "From the Mayflower to Silicon Valley: Tools and Traditions in American Intellectual History," the 2016 conference of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History. The paper was part of Panel 10: Literary Intellectuals as Public Intellectuals: From the Friendly Club to Greenwich Village to the "Female’"School of Deconstruction (with Patrick Redding and Gregory Jones-Katz, and Catherine O'Donnell as chair and commentator). Note: Unfortunately, the panel had to be canceled. This webpage companion is available temporarily for the convenience of conference attendees and other interested parties.
On This Page:
Scenes and Manners in Print
For a full table of appearances in English-language print between the 1790s and 1840s, with notes on sources, see this project page.
Selected Primary Sources
- "Essay of History and Romance," 1797, in Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin: Educational and Literary Writings, ed. Pamela Clemit, vol. V (London: William Pickering, 1993). A plaintext transcript is available online.
Recommends the study of individuals as "an object of the highest importance," and not only the study of their public actions. When encountering a particularly great person, "I am not contented to observe such a man upon the public stage, I would follow him into his closet. I would see the friend and the father of a family, as well as the patriot," and "I should rejoice to have, or to be enabled to make, if that were possible, a journal of his ordinary and minutest actions." Because of the limitations of surviving records, this implies "the noblest and most excellent species of history" is "historical romance"—"a composition in which, with a scanty substratum of facts and dates, the writer interweaves a number of happy, ingenious and instructive inventions, blending them into one continuous and indiscernible mass."
Charles Brockden Brown:
- "Plan of a New Work Entitled The American Register." New York Evening Post (Jan. 14, 1807), 4. Pictured right (click to enlarge) thanks to scans available here.
Prospectus. Refers to the American Register as "a complete mirror of the age," reflecting not only "those matters which may be considered as wholly of a national or public nature," but also "all those memorable events which happen in private life, but which are justly thought deserving of public curiosity" because they "reflect a strong light upon the actual condition of society and manners."
Selected Secondary Sources
History, Fiction, and/or Representation in Print:
- Brickhouse, Anna. Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth-Century Public Sphere. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
- Claybaugh, Amanda. The Novel of Purpose: Literature and Social Reform in the Anglo-American World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007.
- Hamnett, Brian. The Historical Novel in Nineteenth-Century Europe: Representations of Reality in History and Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
- Maxwell, Richard. The Historical Novel in Europe, 1650-1950. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
- Parkinson, Robert G. The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.
(Note also the following accessible discussion of Brown, Godwin, and their contemporaries' debates over the truth-telling value of fiction)
- Lepore, Jill. "Just the Facts, Ma'am: Fake Memoirs, Factual Fictions, and the History of History." The New Yorker (Mar. 24, 2008).
- Cayton, Andrew. Love in the Time of Revolution: Transatlantic Literary Radicalism and Historical Change, 1793-1818. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013.
- Clemit, Pamela. The Godwinian Novel: The Rational Fictions of Godwin, Brockden Brown, Mary Shelley. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.
The Friendly Club:
- Teute, Frederika J. "A 'Republic of Intellect': Conversation and Criticism among the Sexes in 1790s New York," in Philip Barnard, Mark L. Kamrath, and Stephen Shapiro, eds., Revising Charles Brockden Brown: Culture, Politics, and Sexuality in the Early Republic, 149-181. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004.
- O'Donnell Kaplan, Catherine. Men of Letters in the Early Republic: Cultivating Forums of Citizenship. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
- Waterman, Bryan. Republic of Intellect: The Friendly Club of New York City and the Making of American Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.
Charles Brockden Brown:
- Cody, Michael. Charles Brockden Brown and the Literary Magazine: Cultural Journalism in the Early American Republic. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2004.
- Crain, Caleb. American Sympathy: Men, Friendship, and Literature in the New Nation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
- Kafer, Peter. Charles Brockden Brown's Revolution and the Birth of American Gothic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
- Kamrath, Mark L. The Historicism of Charles Brockden Brown: Radical History and the Early Republic. Kent, Oh.: Kent State University Press, 2010.