Home  »  Volume XV: English COLONIAL AND REVOLUTIONARY LITERATURE EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 3. Mrs. Morton; Mrs. Foster; Mrs. Rowson; Charlotte Temple

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

VI. Fiction I

§ 3. Mrs. Morton; Mrs. Foster; Mrs. Rowson; Charlotte Temple

Thus early did the American novel acquire the permanent background of neutral domestic fiction against which the notable figures stand out. A few of the early names have a shade of distinction. Mrs. Sarah Wentworth Morton (1759–1846), a “Lady of Boston,” produced the first regular novel, The Power of Sympathy (1789). Its two volumes of stilted letters caused a scandal and were promptly suppressed, but they called forth a much better novel, The Coquette (1797), by Mrs. Hannah Webster Foster (1759–1840). Based upon the tragic and widely known career of Elizabeth Whitman of Hartford, it saw thirteen editions in forty years, but it was still less popular than Mrs. Susannah Haswell Rowson’s Charlotte (1794), one of the most popular novels ever published in America. Mrs. Rowson (1762–1824), an American only by immigration, had indeed written the novel in England (1790?), but Charlotte Temple, to call it by its later title, was thoroughly naturalized. It has persuaded an increasingly naive underworld of fiction readers to buy more than a hundred editions and has built up a legend about the not too authentic tomb of Charlotte Stanley in Trinity Churchyard, New York.

A particular importance of The Coquette and Charlotte Temple was that they gave to fiction something of the saga element by stealing, in the company of facts, upon a community which winced at fiction. And this brief garment of illusion was not confined to New York and New England.