- Excerpts from Sincerity; A Novel in a Series of Original Letters, by Susanna Rowson
For the fall of 2015, the Just Teach One project, hosted at the American Antiquarian Society's online journal Common-place: The Journal of Early American Life, made available its seventh free, classroom-ready text, Susanna Rowson's Sincerity; A Novel in a Series of Original Letters. Published in book form in 1813 with the title Sarah, or The Exemplary Wife, the novel originally had been serialized anonymously under the byline "The Novelist," in the Boston Weekly Magazine from June 1803 to June 1804. The novel opens with Sarah's abandonment by her father and her unhappy marriage to Darnley, and the plot focuses on the trials of that marriage—Darnley's affairs and imprisonment, Sarah's flight to Ireland, and clashes with male admirers and female detractors. The novel is epistolary and innovatively so, alternating between Sarah's letters to her friend Anne and Anne's more remote letters to a distant friend, Elinor; late in the novel, Anne suddenly dies, changing epistolary circuits still further. One of the most straightforward and lengthy depictions of an unhappy marriage in the early nineteenth century, Sincerity also extends the range of sentimentality associated with Rowson's better-known novel, Charlotte Temple. Our edition, from which we here reproduce three of the original serialization's fifty-three installments, reproduces the text as it originally appeared, including inconsistent spellings (such as Ann and Anne), correcting only obvious misprints. We also note a few of the changes made in the 1813 edition of the full novel, which also included a new preface. The following selections give some sense [End Page 132] of Rowson's changing formulation of sentimentality but also reproduce passages referenced by this forum's contributors. The full text is available online at Common-place: The Journal of Early American Life (jto.common-place.org/rowsons-sincerity-1803–04).
SINCERITY; A NOVEL IN A SERIES OF ORIGINAL LETTERS. [from the June 4, 1803 issue]
LETTER I—SARAH TO ANNE
London, May 19, 1775.
yes! Anne, the die is cast—I am a wife. But a less cheerful bride; one who looks forward with less hope, perhaps never existed. You were surprised, you say, to hear to whom I had relinquished my hand and heart—leave out the latter, Anne, it had nothing to do with the transaction. Why were you not here, you say, to have prevented a union which you are morally certain will not conduce to my happiness. You cannot be more certain of it, than I am; but what could I do? Frederic gone to India; hemmed round with persuasive meddlers, who I am more than half convinced, urged me to this measure, fearful I should be burthensome to them; another thing, I was told it was necessary for the preservation of my reputation that I should accept Darnley.1 I had no natural protector; my father so far distant he was the same as dead to me; Frederic gone; my health not sufficiently established to enable me to undertake the journey I meditated before you left England; my finances reduced to a very small portion, and though most earnestly entreated to forbear, Darnley continuing his visits. I found I must accede to his proposals, or be thrown on the world, censured by my relations, robbed of my good name, and being poor, open to the pursuits and insults of the profligate. One thing which encouraged me to hope I might be tolerably happy in the union was—though my heart felt no strong emotions in his favour, it was totally free from all partiality towards any other. He always appeared good humoured and obliging; and though his mind was not highly cultivated, I thought time might improve him in that particular; however, I was candid with him; told him the situation of my heart, and asked if he could be content with receiving attentions which would be only the result of principle. He seemed to think this only maidenish affectation, and perfectly convinced within himself that I loved him already.2 I have read and heard much of the...