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The Culture and Commerce of the Early American Novel

Reading the Atlantic World-System

Stephen Shapiro

Publication Year: 2009

Taking his cue from Philadelphia-born novelist Charles Brockden Brown’s Annals of Europe and America, which contends that America is shaped most noticeably by the international struggle between Great Britain and France for control of the world trade market, Stephen Shapiro charts the advent, decline, and reinvigoration of the early American novel. That the American novel “sprang so unexpectedly into published existence during the 1790s” may be a reflection of the beginning of the end of Franco-British supremacy and of the power of a middle class riding the crest of a new world economic system. Shapiro’s world-systems approach is a relatively new methodology for literary studies, but it brings two particularly useful features to the table. First, it refines the conceptual frameworks for analyzing cultural and social history, such as the rise in sentimentalism, in relation to a long-wave economic history of global commerce; second, it fosters a new model for a comparative American studies across time. Rather than relying on contiguous time, a world-systems approach might compare the cultural production of one region to another at the same location within the recurring cycle in an economic reconfiguration. Shapiro offers a way of thinking about the causes for the emergence of the American novel that suggests a fresh approach to the paradigms shaping American studies.

Published by: Penn State University Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

Without the help of an honor guard over the years, these pages would not exist. My gratitude to Michael Denning, Bryan Wolf, Philip Barnard, Mark Kamrath, David Waldstreicher, Jeffrey Richards, and Ed White. Others gave encouragement and aid when all seemed lost. In rough chronological order, let the dignity of their names sound my thanks: Mark Averitt, David L. Smith, Christopher Pye, Michael Knight (RIP), Peter Conrad...

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1: method and misperception: the paradigm problem of the early american novel

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pp. 1-50

In the introduction of his contemporary history of the United States, the Annals of Europe and America (1807–10), Philadelphia-born novelist Charles Brockden Brown (1771–1810) considers the idea of America’s manifest self-determination as nonsense. Because America principally depends on international trade, its “destiny . . . is intimately connected with the situation and transactions of European...

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2: The Geoculture of the Anglo-French Eighteenth-Century World-System

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pp. 51-95

The intrinsic, cyclical tensions for competitive advantage within the capitalist world-system propel phase transformations, where each long wave has its own distinctive geocultural features within the larger predicates of historical capitalism. Marx characterized the eighteenth century by its supersession of small workshops with the conglomeration of formerly isolated workers in a single space of production...

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3: The Re-export Republic and the Rise of the Early American Novel

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pp. 97-167

The transformation of Western European society through the long eighteenth century from early modern political, juridical, belief, and exchange systems to modern ones ends with the enlargement and incipient consolidation of two classes: the bourgeoisie and an urban, provincial, and colonial proletariat formed from a collection of previously discrete or loosely...

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4: The Paradox of the Public Sphere: Franklin’s Autobiography and the Institution of Ideology

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pp. 169-208

Amidst the transformation between long phases of the modern world-system,the resulting milieu created by re-export allowed nascent semiperipheral agentsto reconfigure elements of the once dominant geoculture, such as sentimental fiction. This literary turn partly occurs because sentimental fiction was already a constituent regulating device within the dynamic system. But when...

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5: Wieland and the Problem of Counterinstitutionality

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pp. 209-257

In Wieland; or, The Transformation (1798), Brown delivers a tale about gothic violence within Mettingen, the Wieland family manor on Philadelphia’s outskirts, seemingly touched off by the mysterious arrival of Carwin, an educated young man of indeterminate origins, as a geographical device to represent tensions within the re-export republic’s sociocultural field. As...

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6: Arthur Mervyn and the Racial Revolution of Narrative Consciousness

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pp. 259-299

In his earlier fictions, Brown unpacks civil society’s systemic violence and indicates the emerging form of social regulation by “therapeutic” medical and juridical institutions that seek to contain that violence by externalizing it on exceptional members as a matter of individual dysfunction. Although Wieland’s suburban enclave is not a self-evidently prime target for a...

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Afterword: Early Nineteenth-Century American Studies and the World-Systems Perspective

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pp. 301-304

Shortly after 1800, American political economy, culture, and power shifts once more in relation to an altering world-system. Although the last phases of the long eighteenth century continue throughout the Napoleonic Wars, the new long wave’s constellation was already beginning to emerge. A key feature of this British-dominated phase involves the reshaping of imperial contours...


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pp. 305-349


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pp. 351-371

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271053141
E-ISBN-10: 0271053143
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271032917
Print-ISBN-10: 027103291X

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2009