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ECF virtual issue, April 2018
Curator Paul Downes, University of Toronto

Introduction: written by Paul Downes

Articles published in Eighteenth-Century Fiction since the turn of the twenty-first century inform two distinct ways of studying “America.” One approach privileges the uncertainty many Americans felt about the social and psychological consequences of the successful revolutionary break with England and the subsequent emergence of a domestic political split between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Essays that explore this period often invoke a broadly Habermasian notion of the public sphere (particularly as filtered through the work of Michael Warner) in order to register the political power of novels by Charles Brockden Brown, Susanna Rowson, Tabitha Tenney, and Hannah Webster Foster. In “’Falling into Fiction’: Reading Female Quixotism” (ECF 14.2, January 2002), for example, Stephen Carl Arch reads Tenney’s 1801 novel in relation to its mid-century English precursors. Arch demonstrates how the popular motif of the female reader led astray by fiction served Tenney’s Federalist determination to denounce the seductive appeal of democratic or “Jacobinical” radicalism. Dorcasina, the “heroine” of Tenney’s novel, is derided, in quite conventional terms, for her naive attachment to fictional romance, and the American reader is warned about the “demoralizing and atheistical principles of that corrupt people” [the French], whose recent revolution threatened to undermine the virtue of “Lady liberty” (194, 198). “Everywhere,” Arch writes, “Female Quixotism promotes the idea that the wealthy and cultured are socially superior, that men should control their wives, that laws and social mores are objectively true and that to disobey them wilfully leads to madness or hypocrisy” (192). Indeed, Tenney’s allegory is so blunt and the condemnation so rote, that we might begin to wonder if Female Quixotism actually lampoons the kind of Federalist moral education it so predictably rehearses. This cat-and-mouse game between the fictional condemnation of fiction and the parodic imitation of those same fictions goes some way towards describing the contentious discursive atmosphere of the late eighteenth-century American political and literary world.

To read the full introduction by Paul Downes: click here.

©McMaster University, 2018.

ECF articles on America are available at the free-to-read archive:

Falling into Fiction: Reading Female Quixotism
by Stephen Carl ARCH, ECF 14, no. 2 (2002): 177-98.

A Mob of Lusty Villagers: Operations of Domestic Desires in Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette
by Elizabeth DILL, ECF 15, no. 2 (2003): 255-79.

Uncivil Tongues: Slander and Honour in Susanna Rowson’s Trials of the Human Heart
by Joseph FICHTELBERG, ECF  18, no. 4 (2006): 425-51.

Periodical Visitations: Yellow Fever as Yellow Journalism in Charles Brockden Brown’s Arthur Mervyn
by Louis Kirk McAULEY, ECF 19, no. 3 (2007): 307-40.

Consuming Indians: Tsonnonthouan, Colonialism, and the Commodification of Culture
by Robbie Richardson, ECF 22, no. 4 (2010): 693-715.

Recollection Sets My Busy Imagination to Work: Transatlantic Self-Narration, Performance, and Reception in The Female American
by Kristianne Kalata VACCARO, ECF 20, no. 2 (2007-8): 127-50.

About “Savages and the Awfulness of America”: Colonial Corruptions in Humphry Clinker
by Tara Ghoshal WALLACE, ECF 18, no. 2 (2005-6): 229-50.

Writing Under the Influence: An Examination of Wieland’s Well Authenticated Facts and the Deception of Murderous Fathers in Post-Revolutionary Print Culture
by Daniel E. WILLIAMS, ECF 15, nos.3-4 (2003): 643-68.

Further reading:

Cahill, Edward and Edward Larkin, eds. Aesthetics, Feeling, and Form in Early American Literature. Early American Literature 51, no. 2 (2016).

Dillon, Elizabeth Maddock.  The Gender of Freedom: Fictions of Liberalism and the Literary Public Sphere. Stanford University Press, 2004.

Downes, Paul. “Fiction and Democracy.” A Companion to American Fiction, 1780-1865, ed. Shirley Samuels. Blackwell, 2004. 20-30.

Elmer, Jonathan. On Lingering and Being Last: Race and Sovereignty in the New World. Fordham University Press, 2008.

Gustafson, Thomas. Representative Words: Politics, Literature, and the American Language, 1776-1865. Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Joseph, Betty. “Re(playing) Crusoe/Pocahontas: Circum-Atlantic Stagings in The Female American.Criticism 42, no. 3 (2000): 317-35.

Roberts, Sian Silyn. Gothic Subjects: The Transformation of Individualism in American Fiction, 1790-1855. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014.

Rust, Marion. “Charles Brockden Brown and Susanna Rowson.” The Oxford History of the Novel in English. Gen. ed. Patrick Parrinder. Volume 5: The American Novel to 1870, ed. Gerald Kennedy and Leland S. Person. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Sayre, Gordon. Les Sauvages Américains: Representations of Native Americans in French and English Colonial Literature. University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Slauter, Eric Thomas. “History, Literature, and the Atlantic World.” Early American Literature 43, no. 1 (2008): 153-86.

Tennenhouse, Leonard. The Importance of Feeling English: American Literature and the British Diaspora, 1750-1850. Princeton University Press, 2007.

Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860. Oxford University Press, 1985.

Warner, Michael. The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America. Harvard University Press, 1990.

Weinstein, Cindy, and Christopher Looby. American Literature’s Aesthetic Dimensions. Columbia University Press, 2013.

ECF articles on Project MUSE:

Sarah Scott and America: Sir George Ellison, The Man of Real Sensibility, and the Squire of Horton
by EVE TAVOR BANNET, ECF 22, no. 4 (2010): 631-56.

New People in a New World? Defoe’s Ambivalent Narratives of Emigration
by JOSEPH F. BARTOLOMEO, ECF 23, no. 3 (2011):455-70.

The Failure of Trade’s Empire in The History of Emily Montague
by KATHERINE BINHAMMER, ECF 23, no. 2 (2011): 295-319.

At the Margins of Utopia: Jamaica in Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall
by DAVID OAKLEAF, ECF 28, no. 1 (2015): 109-37.

Set the Winter at Defiance: Emily Montague’s Weather Reports and Political Sensibility
by MORGAN VANEK, ECF 28, no. 3 (2016): 447-71.

The Blessings of Freedom: Britain, America, and “the East” in the Fiction of Robert Bage
by JAMES WATT, ECF 22, no. 1 (2009): 49-69.

The Lure of the Other: Sheridan, Identity and Performance in Kingston and Calcutta
by KATHLEEN WILSON, ECF 27, nos.3-4 (2015): 509-34.

See other ECF virtual issues:


Romancières des Lumières



Women’s Sexuality

©McMaster University, 2018. All articles published on the Eighteenth-Century Fiction website are protected by copyright held by Eighteenth-Century Fiction, a journal published by the Faculty of Humanities at McMaster University.