Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This study focuses on self- reflexivity in early American texts. This self-reflexivity demonstrates that these early American authors were attempting to define “American fiction” and were participating in a new literary tradition that was developing simultaneously with the development of the new country. After the introduction, Chapter One lays the groundwork for my study by exploring current views of these texts and what led to these views. Chapter Two explores the difficulties facing post-Revolutionary authors and their reactions to these obstacles as reflected in their prefaces and their other writings. I show the way these authors self-consciously respond to the opposition to novels in more nuanced ways and less defensively than is generally acknowledged. In the remaining chapters, I explore the self-reflexivity in the novels themselves. In Chapter Three, I consider three novels by Charles Brockden Brown – Wieland (1798), Arthur Mervyn (1799/1800), and Edgar Huntly (1799) – novels that explore the nature of the American novel in different ways. In Chapter Four, I analyze The Coquette (1797), Charlotte Temple (1794), and Ormond (1799), to show the ways Hannah Foster, Susanna Rowson, and Brockden Brown subvert the sentimental tradition in order to explore characters as a literary element, to embrace a solidarity among readers, and to focus on a theme of language and writing rather than present a didactic moral. Chapter Five analyzes Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive (1797), Tabitha Tenney’s The Female Quixotism (1797), and Hugh Henry Brackdenridge’s Modern Chivalry (1815). The authors of these novels use self-reflexivity and humor in order to satirize and mock the state of American literary culture at the time. While each chapter focuses on different works and views them from different angles, they all extend my argument that these early novelists are working self-consciously toward developing a definition of “American fiction” as they are writing. If we reconsider these works in light of their self-reflexive moments then we begin to see that they are much more than harbingers of literature to come but worthy to be considered part of the American literary tradition in their own stead.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Moreland, Richard