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 novelsmost of them now long forgottenwere 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 materialthe novels themselves as well as reviews, inscriptions in cherished books, letters and diaries, and many other recordsDavidson presents the genesis of American literature in its fullest possible context.