The Culture and Commerce of the Early American Novel

The Culture and Commerce of the Early American Novel: Reading the Atlantic World-System

Stephen Shapiro
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 384
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v2b4
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  • Book Info
    The Culture and Commerce of the Early American Novel
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05484-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 METHOD AND MISPERCEPTION: THE PARADIGM PROBLEM OF THE EARLY AMERICAN NOVEL
    (pp. 1-50)

    In the introduction of his contemporary history of the United States, theAnnals 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 nations.”¹ As the demand for American goods was determined by shortages resulting from the convulsions of war among foreign peoples, the country was shaped by the wake of antagonistic global forces since the conditions of modern trade and navigation “have the wonder power...

  5. 2 THE GEOCULTURE OF THE ANGLO-FRENCH EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY WORLD-SYSTEM
    (pp. 51-96)

    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, the manufactory, where economies of scale then allowed for the division of labor into specialized tasks.¹ The eighteenth century’s geoculture, likewise, involves the dual process of expanding the social and geographic domain of trade, consumption, and membership of the bourgeoisie, while increasing social disintegration through...

  6. 3 THE RE-EXPORT REPUBLIC AND THE RISE OF THE EARLY AMERICAN NOVEL
    (pp. 97-168)

    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 affiliated groups. This sociogenesis occurs through a geoculture of sensibility, sensation, slavery, and sentimentality, which belongs to an Atlantic world-system dominated by the British and French imperial nation-states. The expansive phase of this long wave of political economy peaks in the mid-1700s as Britain and France confront each other...

  7. 4 THE PARADOX OF THE PUBLIC SPHERE: FRANKLIN’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND THE INSTITUTION OF IDEOLOGY
    (pp. 169-208)

    Amidst the transformation between long phases of the modern world-system, the resulting milieu created by re-export allowed nascent semiperipheral agents to 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 Americans turned to writing fiction, they did so in a chronovoric fashion, investing narrative with the purpose of comprehending and representing the social ambivalences of their own moment. Because the production of fiction allows for the authoring subject’s self-reflection in ways that sugar consumption does not, the early...

  8. 5 WIELAND AND THE PROBLEM OF COUNTERINSTITUTIONALITY
    (pp. 209-258)

    InWieland; 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 his own first complete romance,Wielandalso functions as Brown’s self-reflexive examination into the conditions of the present literary field, as a sphere already preconditioned by the generic curriculum vitae described in Franklin’sAutobiography. Hear, for example,Wieland’s knowing echo of Franklin’s description of his Philadelphia arrival as...

  9. 6 ARTHUR MERVYN AND THE RACIAL REVOLUTION OF NARRATIVE CONSCIOUSNESS
    (pp. 259-300)

    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. AlthoughWieland’s suburban enclave is not a self-evidently prime target for a geocultural approach, Brown uses Mettingen’s tight circumference for an initial conceptualization that his later fictions, like the two volumeArthur Mervyn; or, Memoirs of the Year 1793(1799–1800), build on to unpack the urban, coastal, and circumatlantic influences on Pennsylvania’s backcountry during the world-system’s internal...

  10. AFTERWORD: EARLY NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICAN STUDIES AND THE WORLD-SYSTEMS PERSPECTIVE
    (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 away from the Atlantic. The decline of sensational consumption in favor of textile and other machine-produced commodities was in tandem with the European powers’ decreasing focus on the Caribbean islands in favor of other lands. While the British abolished African slavery, it was not superseded...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 305-350)
  12. Index
    (pp. 351-372)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 373-373)