The University of North Carolina Press
What are the origins of the American novel? Does it begin with the imagination, when Europeans first began dreaming of life in the New World?1 Does it begin with Daniel Defoe’s adventurers, Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, and their literary progeny? Or does the novel need a material presence in the soil of the New World? Does it begin in 1789, with William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy?—which Isaiah Thomas, with shrewd prescience, marketed as the “first American novel.” Or does it begin even earlier, in 1742, with Benjamin Franklin’s first American edition of Samuel Richardson’s sentimental novel Pamela, published at his shop in Philadelphia? These are all arguable inception points for American fiction, grounded in particular kinds of historicist practices. But what if what we think we know about the material history of the novel in British America is wrong—or at least more complicated? What if we were able to push back by five decades the date of the first novel published in the American colonies and locate that first novel publication not in relatively liberal Pennsylvania, but at the height, and in the heart, of conservative Puritan Massachusetts? If the first novel published in the colonies was not a sentimental story about middling kinds of white people, as were Pamela and The Power of Sympathy, but rather a story about race, sex, violence, slavery, and colonialism, how would those facts change the stories we tell about the novel and early America?
Weyler, K. A., & Burnham, M. (2016). Reanimating Ghost Editions, Reorienting the Early American Novel. Early American Literature, 51(3), 655–664. https://doi.org/10.1353/eal.2016.0051