The Power of Sympathy

William Hill Brown. Edited by William S. Kable.


Fiction/General; Literary Criticism / American / General
206 pp. 6x9

$24.95 paper 978-0-8142-5312-0
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Open Access Text


The first American novel, The Power of Sympathy, was dedicated, “with esteem and sincerity, by their friend and humble servant, the author,” “to the Young Ladies of United Columbia” and was “intended to represent the specious causes and to expose the fatal consequences of SEDUCTION; to inspire the female mind with a principle of self–complacency, and to promote the economy of human life.”

The book enjoyed only a modest circulation following its initial appearance in 1789. There is a persistent tradition that it was deliberately suppressed by the prominent Morton and Apthorp families of Boston, who attempted to buy up the stock of copies because a scandalous episode in the book was based on an actual incident involving Fanny Apthorp and her brother–in–law Perez Morton.

Authorship of the novel was long attributed to the poetess Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton, but beyond her kinship to the prototype of one of the lovers portrayed in this notorious Ophelia episode, there is no evidence to support this contention. Scholars have now come to recognize William Hill Brown as the actual author, and to regard it as the only one of his works to achieve any lasting distinction.

The novel is again made available in an edition by William S. Kable, associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina, who has established his definitive text in accordance with modern editorial principles and procedures; has provided full historical and textual introductions; and has furnished appendixes recording all details in the transmission of the text.