Early American Literature

lecture notes



Enlightenment, Age of Reason > Romanticism  Enlightenment / Romanticism


tradition x modernity


Founders challenge:

If "all men are created equal" with "unalienable rights," what is meant by men?

Are American ideals universal, or limited to people like the Founders? (propertied white men)


Temptation of America's riches and opportunity: Can we be governed? Can we govern ourselves? Or do we just "go for it?"



Charlotte Temple

What kinds of problems is Charlotte Temple trying to solve or deal with?




Woolman notes


mixed feelings:

admiration, emulation

lack of indulgence, comfort, human bonds of ease, indulgence


4 literacy

10 love of God > love for Creation

14-15 silence, watch for pure opening

22 cf. Thoreau voluntary simplicity

26 slaves, treatment varies > conversation

27 cf. Crevecoeur

31 inward stillness

35 deep-rooted customs, though wrong

38 plain style

40a bounds to our desires

45 cf. Crevecoeur on South

46 rationalizations of slavery + 48 biblical Cain, Ham

50 x-negro marriages

51 no contract

51 literacy for slaves + universality of God

56 questioning improvements

62 universalism, Thomas a Kempis

63 keeping down to that root from which our concern proceeded > sympathy

66 beyond family

68 too much labor x plainness, things useful

71 Indians in way of American Dream

71 solve social problems by becoming better people [Romantic?]

74 natives as well as negroes

76 magician episode; no use to the world

78 sailors, exampled

84 animal rights


Reading Woolman's Journal is like reading the life of a saint. What pleasures or rewards? What benefits and risks of reading moral or pious literature in public schools?

14-15 silence, watch for pure opening

31 inward stillness

62 universalism, Thomas a Kempis

66 beyond family

76 magician episode; no use to the world




What kinds of moral quandaries does Woolman face that prevent simple yes-no moralism? [43]

35 deep-rooted customs, though wrong; + compromises of business

62 universalism, Thomas a Kempis



How does Woolman differ from the Enlightenment?

10 love of God > love for Creation

56 questioning improvements



How does Woolman recall Plain Style & preview Thoreau and Civil Disobedience, voluntary simplicity, etc.

22 cf. Thoreau voluntary simplicity

38 plain style

40a bounds to our desires

68 too much labor x plainness, things useful

71 solve social problems by becoming better people [Romantic?]



Woolman as preview of Crevecoeur

45 cf. Crevecoeur on South


88 So great is the hurry in the spirit of this world, that in aiming to do business quickly and to gain wealth, the creation at this day doth loudly groan. . . .




Waves of immigration




3.2 no aristocratical families (Romanticism as common)

3.4 [melting pot]

3.5 this American, this new man?

3.6-7 American exceptionalism

3.7 principle of nature: self-interest (capitalism)



9.3 chosen race, unfortunate one

9.5 minority vs. immigrant experience

9.6 For whom must they work?

9.7 Oh, Nature, where art thou?--Are not these blacks thy children as well as we?  Declaration of Independence


Woolman as preview of Crevecoeur

45 cf. Crevecoeur on South


Letter 12, “Distresses of a Frontier-Man”

12.1 uncontaminated simple manners (noble savage)

[12.2] Their system is sufficiently complete to answer all the primary wants of man, and to constitute him a social being, such as he ought to be in the great forest of nature.

[12.5] By what power does it come to pass, that children who have been adopted when young among these people, can never be prevailed on to re-adopt European manners?

12.7 in their social bond something singularly captivating, and far superior to any thing to be boasted of among us; for thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having from choice become Europeans!

12.8 more closely connected with nature than we are; they are her immediate children, the inhabitants of the woods are her undefiled offspring . . . .

Woolman 71 Indians in way of American Dream





Woolman as Romanticism


22 cf. Thoreau voluntary simplicity

38 plain style

40a bounds to our desires

68 too much labor x plainness, things useful

71 solve social problems by becoming better people [Romantic?]



10 love of God > love for Creation + 56

cf. Jonathan Edwards, Personal Narrative 4, 5, 6

Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason 15, 18, 21, 23

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature 5 (nature and soul), 6-7







Whitefield: After the Constitution's separation of church and state, where does religion matter? What about Whitefield's sermons is potentially Romantic or contrary to Romanticism? What features of popular evangelical Christianity are familiar even today?

John Adams: How is "southern preaching" representative of the Great Awakening? What religious values of New England does Adams pose in opposition to those of the Southern USA?


1.1-2 family values under siege

1.4 early, primitive Christians

1.6 paranoia, conspiracy? cf. Salem Witch Trials

1.10 the great importance of Family Religion

1.11 you are fallen creatures--contrast Romanticism

1.11 by nature lost and estranged from God; and that you can never be restored to your primitive* [original] happiness, till by being born again of the Holy Ghost, you arrive at your primitive* state of purity

1.11 deep sense of God's free grace


2.1 a fallen world

2.2 egalitarian?

2.4 worldliness

2.9 new-birth cf. Emerson

2.10 hidden, powerful presence of Christ

2.10 feeling, sweet

2.10 natural state as hell

2.10 millennium, judgment day


3.3 Apostolic generation

3.5 partaker of the Divine Nature cf. Emerson

3.5 had he continued holy

3.5 partaker of the devil's nature


3.13 cf. Puritan covenant

3.18 x-worldliness, worldy status

3.21 life hidden; cf. Romantic inside







early novels

origins & forms of the novel--evolving genre

What are the identifying features of fiction or a novel?

Jefferson's letter on the novel--risks of Romanticism?

What is Romantic (or occasionally anti-Romantic) about the contents of early American novels?

If these are "bad novels," what do you learn about what makes good fiction?



Charlotte Temple

America as hyper-modern society

Problem posed to generational love, continuity; cf. Declaration; Crevecoeur on “new” + nation of immigrants

Romanticism: Personal feelings & conscience must prevail in impersonal system

Evidence of literate culture: letters, notes

Displacement of villainy, but generational cycle continues, family instability

Sample of epistolary novel: Pamela

Novel as private life x public life of real people

Narrative & dialogue: Franklin on Bunyan

Belcour, La Rue as craft w/o heart

French villains < French Revolution 1789

Surprise: how much the story is about consequences for Montraville


epistolary novel: Samuel Richardson, Pamela (1740)

1.3 15 years old

1.5 musket ball from the Americans

1.6 I never think of the future

1.9 a romantic attempt


2.2 small estate, independence, thrift

2.9 neat apartment [prison]

2.14 tear falls, emblematic

2.16 innocence x insult and dishonor

2.21 filial affection


3.1 son from rising bourgeoisie meets son of affluence

3.3 so specious was his manner

3.4 I gave my child a caution to beware of him, and to look on her mother as her friend.

3.8 the truly brave soul is tremblingly alive to the feelings of humanity

3.12 avowed his passion for Lucy; declared her situation in life would not permit him to marry her; but offered to release me immediately, and make any settlement on her, if George would persuade her to live, as he impiously termed it, a life of honour.

3.20 both gone?


4.5 creditors seized my house and furniture

4.13 I can feel

4.26 marry for money?


5.1 never felt another’s woe

5.2 her heart unfeeling, her passions impetuous

5.5 the most affluent fortune would bring no increase of happiness unless Lucy Eldridge shared it with him; and the knowledge of the purity of her sentiments, and the integrity of his own heart

5.11 little cottage, dairy, garden [garden of Eden, domesticity]

Cut space at end of ch 5


6.2 Dangers of LaRue and international society

6.2 bolding and font

6.6 levity of conversation

6.9 handsome young soldier

6.10 direct address to sober matron

6.12 O my dear young girls [addresses reader]

7.2, 7.4 LaRue’s cunning manipulation of innocent (cf. serpent)

7.6 hypocritical tears

7.12 choice b/w mother and peer

7.21 going to America

7.26 authorial intrusion; diabolical envy

7.27 Mademoiselle eyed the unsuspecting Charlotte (cf. Eve)


8.1 walking together in the garden

8.3 spoil her

8.4 mother + meek submissive duty of wife

8.7 example set by best of mothers (cf. Bradford)

8.10 pleasure as phantom, vain illusion

8.11 devoid of ornament (plain style)

8.11 her name is Content

8.15 her parent is Religion, her sisters Patience and Hope

8.16 authorial / editorial comment

8.18 Charlotte’s birth day


9.1 imprudence, path of rectitude

9.6 Belcour as individualism, self

9.7 Montraville good-natured but misled by bad friend who encouraged growing passion

9.9 poor Charlotte, she knew not the deceitfulness of her own heart


10.1 primogeniture, genteel professions > America

10.3 Senior Montraville's fair advice, warning


11.4, 11.7 love for parents or partner?

11.8 return from America, restored to family

11.9 Charlotte, in an evil hour, consented

"should you, forgetful of your promises, and repenting the engagements you here voluntarily enter into, forsake and leave me on a foreign shore—"

[11.12] "Indeed I do repent," replied Charlotte, "from my soul: but while discretion points out the impropriety of my conduct, inclination urges me on to ruin."


12 Charlotte’s internal debate continues between “inclination” and “reason,” between “love” and “duty.”

12.16 suspense, possibility of escape from romantic destiny

12.27 fainted into carriage


13.1 prefiguring of lost wife and child (foreshadowing)

13.4 Creator / Mr. Eldridge

13.6 apartment = room

13.11 that French woman, your country (Du Pont) (displacement of villainy; cf. spoiled aristocracy of Belcour and young man)

13.14 under the protection of a man


14.5 the fatal note, “bear it like a Christian”

14.6 a friendly gush of tears

14.7 a woman’s weakness

14.13 one misfortune worse than death

14.19 make her not a mother cf. 22.8

14.21 my dear young readers . . . 14.22 remember your mother


15.1 embark for America

15.2 pen and ink

15.4 tears up letter

15.11 bow before the power who inflicts it

15.12 follow the fortunes of the hapless victim of imprudence and evil counsellors.


16.4 the character of La Rue

16.4 change her battery [plan of attack]

16.4 a feigned tale of distress

16.5 a dupe to the artifice of others

16.7 from under his hand a promise of marriage

16.9 revolution: Belcour for Charlotte


17.7 he should be obliged to keep his word

17.8 he has changed his mind . . . the case is altered

17.9 A full sense of her own situation rushed upon her mind. She burst into tears

17.10-11 Mrs. Beauchamp

17.14 the mistress of Montraville

17.15 correspondence b/w face and heart


18.1 Charlotte monologue (interior psychology)

18.1 no friend of her own sex?

18.4 The duteous, faithful wife, though treated with indifference, has one solid pleasure within her own bosom, she can reflect that she has not deserved neglect

18.5 poor girl by thoughtless passion led astray

18.5 no tie but honor, and that, in a man who has been guilty of seduction, is but very feeble

18.5 a heart of sensibility

18.9 My dear Madam . . .

18.11 we erring mortals, great day of retribution


19.1 Julia Franklin (add to character list)

19.2 a dreadful fire + Montraville’s general honor

19.2 miniature picture of Miss Franklin

19.3 forgets Charlotte > resolves to do right thing

19.8 “portrait of my mother”

19.10 I fear I have not only entailed lasting misery on that poor girl, but also thrown a barrier in the way of my own happiness

[19.16] "I am a villain," said he mentally (interior psychology)


20.2 unavoidable business [ventriloquism]


20.6 confidence in his honor

20.7 Belcour knew but little of the female heart

a woman might fall a victim to imprudence, and yet retain so strong a sense of honor, as to reject with horror and contempt every solicitation to a second fault.  [sympathy, compassion]

20.10 Mrs B, chance, gardens joined

20.12 accident

20.12 heavenly satisfaction of comforting a desponding fellow-creature

20.13 Charlotte’s song

20.16 who knows but she has left some kind, affectionate parents to lament her errors, and would she return, they might with rapture receive the poor penitent, and wash away her faults in tears of joy.


21.3 we English people, reserve

21.4 spend the day with me

21.7 "I have forfeited the good opinion of all my friends; I have forsaken them, and undone myself."

21.11-12 letters


22.2 letter to mother

22.3 forfeited the only gem that could render me respectable in the eye of the world

22.5 Charlotte is pregnant

22.8 "If my child should be a girl (which heaven forbid) tell her the unhappy fate of her mother, and teach her to avoid my errors; cf. 14.19


23.1 an independent fortune, and resolved to be happy with the man of her heart, though his rank and fortune (cf. Mr. Temple; love marriage instead of money marriage)

23.1 double cruelty in forsaking her at such a time; and to marry Miss Franklin, while honor, humanity, every sacred law, obliged him still to protect and support Charlotte, was a baseness which his soul shuddered at. [such mixed feelings explore the psychological depth or “internality” available to the novel genre]

23.4 sentimental friend

23.10 Charlotte asleep w/ Belcour by side

23.17 Oh Montraville," said she, "kill me, for pity's sake kill me, but do not doubt my fidelity. Do not leave me in this horrid situation; for the sake of your unborn child, oh! spurn not the wretched mother from you."

23.18 entreating him to believe her innocent, and conjuring Belcour to clear up the dreadful mystery.


24.1 servant

24.2 assumed the part of a tender, consoling friend

24.4 a bribe, prevailed with her to promise whatever letters her mistress might write should be sent to him. [i.e., Belcour]

24.5 monitor [conscience]

24.10 I am a seducer, a mean, ungenerous seducer of unsuspecting innocence

24.11 something in the voice! the manner! the look! that was altogether irresistible

24.13 she loved Montraville

24.16 honor forbids


25.3 servant + letter


26.4 bent on the complete ruin of the unhappy girl, and supposed, by reducing her to an entire dependence on him, to bring her by degrees to consent to gratify his ungenerous passion

26.6 letter to Charlotte + flashback

26.10 not to use any sophistical arguments to prevent her return to virtue


27.7 without a friend of my own sex to whom I can unburthen my full heart

27.9 the virtuous part of my sex will scorn me, and I will never associate with infamy

27.11 Something like humanity was awakened in Belcour's breast by this pathetic speech . . . but the selfish passion which had taken possession of his heart, soon stifled these finer emotions

27.21 married, Eustatia

27.23 rioted in all the intemperance of luxury and lawless pleasure.


28.1 reader speaks

28.1 so much fainting, tears, and distress [melodrama]

28.2 I must request your patience: I am writing a tale of truth: I mean to write it to the heart

28.3 does not La Rue triumph in her shame

28.3 What then is the moral you would inculcate?

28.4 Remember the endeavors of the wicked are often suffered to prosper, that in the end their fall may be attended with more bitterness of heart; while the cup of affliction is poured out for wise and salutary ends, and they who are compelled to drain it even to the bitter dregs, often find comfort at the bottom

28.5 For Charlotte, the soul melts with sympathy; for La Rue, it feels nothing but horror and contempt. [reader’s psychology]

28.7 Colonel Crayton was a domestic man

28.7 young Ensign


29.4, 29.8 realistic dialogue


30.2 letter to La Rue

30.3 snow began to fall

30.4-5 a work of this kind, the probability of my story?


31.1 servant, something in her countenance

31.4 persons one knows nothing about

31.6 tell her it is C T

31.9 unfeeling woman

31.10 inflexible

31.13 compassion

31.15 John, fellow-servant

31.15 surgeon bled her

31.15 gave birth to a female infant


32.2 vice had not so entirely seared over his heart, but the sorrows of Charlotte could find a vulnerable part.

32.4 dreadful images that haunted her distracted mind

32.6 Heaven forbid that I should be deaf to the calls of humanity.


33.1 never before beheld such a scene of poverty (Romantic rhetoric as extreme)

33.2 you are very good to weep thus for me

33.3 honest John

33.5 grant that the sins of the parent be not visited on the unoffending child

33.7 a man about forty (Mr Temple)

33.12 dramatic reunion

33.15 a sudden beam of joy (transcendence)


34.3 servant girl

illness, poverty, and a broken heart

34.4 tortured almost to madness

34.4 a funeral. Almost unknowing what he did, he followed

34.7 if thou wert the seducer of my child, thy own reflections be thy punishment.

34.7 Montraville kills Belcour

34.8 delirium, melancholy, weeps over grave


35 reconstitution of family

35.3 I am the viper

35.4 riot, dissipation, and vice, till, overtaken by poverty and sickness

35.5 striking example



Edgar Huntly

division of early American literature as novels

women's sentimental romances

men's gothic romances

(of course they cross)


1.3 emotions, psychology

1.6 tumult and dismay of soul (interior psychology)

1.8 nocturnal journey in districts so romantic and wild as these; congenial to my temper (correspondence)

1.11 his inexplicable obstinacy

1.12 violent murder by night; no traces of the slayer  (mystery)

1.15 The impulse was gradually awakened that bade me once more to seek the elm (elm as symbol?)

1.19 craggy and obscure path  (wilderness gothic)

1.21 something indistinguishable

1.22 apparition

1.24 gothic lighting

[1.25] A figure, robust and strange, and half naked, to be thus employed, at this hour and place . . . .was it a grave he was digging?

1.26 such mighty anguish, such heart-bursting grief.

1.27 tears . . . . instead of one whom it was duty to persecute, I beheld, in this man, nothing but an object of compassion.

1.31 acted as if he saw nothing (sleep-walking)

1.32 weeping and sighs and more vehemence

1.33 his imperfect dress, the dimness of the light, and the confusion of my own thoughts, hindered me from discerning his features.

1.34 this person was asleep (somnambulism as gimmick)