The First American Novel
Newspapers and pamphlets dominated publishing in eighteenth-century America. The printing of poetry and narrative fiction lingered behind. William Hill Brown’s 1789 epistolary novel, The Power of Sympathy, or, The Triumph of Nature, Founded in Truth, was the first novel authored by an American published in America. Mirroring European conventions for prose fiction, the book’s storyline was riddled with seduction, suicide, infidelity, and incest. Rational characters withstood these ordeals, while the overly emotive succumbed to their own weaknesses. Such themes were a means of promoting virtue in the new republic, focusing on the moral education of women and the standard of rational thought. Scandalous as the work might seem, it was published by the leading book publisher in America, Isaiah Thomas, which gave the work national exposure.
William Hill Brown (1765–1793). The Power of Sympathy, or, The Triumph of Nature Founded in Truth. New York: Isaiah Thomas, 1789.