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Thursday, January 21, 2016

The First American Novel

Picture from The Library of Congress
The Power of Sympathy; or, The Triumph of Nature by William Hill Brown is considered by many to be the first American novel. It was published in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 21, 1789, by Isaiah Thomas. The novel is written in epistolary form and is based on actual events; however, it is classified as a work of fiction. The novel is meant to promote moral rectitude, mainly among women, and reflect the danger of yielding to sexual temptations and the rewards of abstinence.

William Hill Brown was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in November of 1765. At the age of 24, Brown published The Power of Sympathy anonymously. There were several ideas as to the author of this novel, but Brown's niece confirmed that he was definitely the author in 1894. Brown also used the pseudonym "Columbus" for many of his other writings, which were published in the Massachusetts Magazine and the Journal. In 1792, Brown moved south to Murfreesboro, North Carolina, to study law. In August of 1793, malaria struck the area and Brown fell ill. He passed away September 2, 1793, at the age of 27. His literary career was carried on by his aunt (the half-sister of his father's second wife), Catharine Byles.

There has been much debate as to whether or not The Power of Sympathy was actually the first American novel. What do you think?

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