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Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America

Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America
Author: Cathy N. Davidson
ISBN 13: 9780195148237
ISBN 10: 195148231
Edition: Expanded
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 2004-09-30
Format: Paperback
Pages: 480
List Price: $38.95

Revolution and the Word offers a unique perspective on the origins of American fiction, looking not only at the early novels themselves but at the people who produced them, sold them, and read them. It shows how, in the aftermath of the American Revolution, the novel found a special place among the least privileged citizens of the new republic. As Cathy N. Davidson explains, early American novels—most of them now long forgotten—were a primary means by which those who bought and read them, especially women and the lower classes, moved into the higher levels of literacy required by a democracy. This very fact, Davidson shows, also made these people less amenable to the control of the gentry who, naturally enough, derided fiction as a potentially subversive genre. Combining rigorous historical methods with the newest insights of literacy theory, Davidson brilliantly reconstructs the complex interplay of politics, ideology, economics, and other social forces that governed the way novels were written, published, distributed, and understood. Davidson also shows, in almost tactile detail, how many Americans lived during the Constitutional era. She depicts the life of the traveling book peddler, the harsh lot of the printer, the shortcomings of early American schools, the ambiguous politics of novelists like Brackenridge and Tyler, and the lost lives of ordinary women like Tabitha Tenney and Patty Rogers. Drawing on a vast body of material—the novels themselves as well as reviews, inscriptions in cherished books, letters and diaries, and many other records—Davidson presents the genesis of American literature in its fullest possible context.