Trials of the Human Heart (1795), though set entirely in England, reflects both American idealism and the hard-nosed realities of women’s lives, perhaps more than any other novel of the Early Republic. In using a number of incidents from her own life, Susannah Rowson demonstrates the difficulties of living in a corrupt world where men maintain great power over women’s physical and financial security. Though an imperfect person, Rowson’s Meriel champions Early American values, such as hard work, independence, and endurance. She remains a heroine for the ages.
Nine Plays of Early America, 1765–1818 responds to a rising interest in Early American Drama, but is the only volume that include only drama before 1830 by both men and women and in a volume that is inexpensive. Herein the reader will find a range of plays, in terms of date, fame, and authorial gender. Some of the nine plays are standards, such as The Contrast and Slaves in Algiers, while other are lesser known, such as the early Ponteach and The Fair Americans. Sarah E. Chinn provides an Introduction that orients the reader to the drama of the entire period.
The Asylum, 1811, is a novel full of surprises. At first it seems an innocent love story, but then Melissa’s intolerant father disrupts the romance. Rather than a traditional comedy, the plot subjects Melissa to gothic horrors, while Alonzo is plunged into the American Revolution’s terrors. But our heroes meet these ordeals with faith in a providential good, fortified by the wisdom of Franklin, allowing the plot to come together in unexpected ways. It offers a ride through the nation’s formative years as the U.S. struggled to establish, as Isaac Mitchell believed, a unique ethical culture.
Kelroy was originally published in 1812 and written by an obscure niece of Dr. Benjamin Rush, who greatly influenced her. Kelroy decries the end of Republican idealism from the perspective of the social elite. It tells of how the idealized love between Edward Kelroy and Emily Hammond is destroyed by Emily’s obsessively materialistic mother. In this, it captures the social tensions of the time of transition from Federalist to Democratic rule, bemoaning the demise of an idealized social elite.
Female Quixotism, originally published in 1801, decries frivolous fiction, even as it uses fiction itself to make its point. Concerned about the gullibility of young females, it tells the story of Dorcasina Sheldon who, for nearly all her life, idealizes romance, leaving her prey to an array of fortune hunters who care not for her herself. In this Early American gem, author Tabitha Tenney captures the foolishness of both nubile romantic and cynical man on the make.
Margaretta is a minor gem of Early American Literature, published in 1807 in Philadelphia and Charleston, was never republished…until now. It tells of the adventures of an idealized country girl whose forced travels take her from Elkton, Maryland, to Philadelphia to Baltimore to St. Domingue (Haiti) to England and then to the Susquehanna Valley—all the while protecting her virtue. In the process we see turn-of-the-nineteenth-century life, as it was understood by Philadelphia aristocrat Martha Meredith Read, who created, in the words of editor Richard S. Pressman, a “Federalist fantasy” of how life following the rise of Thomas Jefferson ought to be lived.