Hapless Orphans?: Anonymity and Authorship in the Early American Novel (1789-1820): A Society for Early Americanists Conference Panel

Panel Chair: Duncan Faherty, Queens College & the CUNY Graduate Center As Cathy Davidson registers in Revolution and the Word, "at least one hundred novels were produced in America between 1789 and 1820." Since the initial publication of Davidson’s Revolution and the Word in 1986, our sense of the variegated contours of that archive has dramatically increased. Indeed "rediscovered" texts which barely received consideration even a decade ago — like Leonora Sansay’s The Secret History (1808) — are now central parts of our rapidly expanding canon. This panel aims to explore a still largely ignored subset of these novels: the dozens of novels published anonymously during the period. Texts such as The Hapless Orphan (1793), The History of Constantius & Pulchera (1795), St. Herbert (1796), Moreland Vale (1801), and Humanity in Algiers (1801) have much to tell us about the development of early American literary history and cultural practices, yet, perhaps, because of the lack of biographical inroads, they continue to be overlooked. This panel seeks to redress that issue by considering the challenges and potential rewards of writing about anonymously published novels.
  • Do we need a different critical approach to fully consider the complex circumstances of "anonymous" novels?
  • Do we habitually over-privilege biographical contexts?
  • Are contextualized readings of anonymous novels suspect because of methodological difficulties?
  • How did the reception or understanding of some works — such as The Power of Sympathy (1789) or The Gleaner (1798) — change when their authorship was revealed?
  • What is the cultural capital of anonymity?
  • How does anonymity function as a rhetorical move or as a political position?
  • Does a lack of clear "parentage" mean that these anonymous texts will continue to remain hapless orphans (never adopted by our monographs and syllabi)?
Papers figured as particular case studies are as welcome as papers which seek to address the broader theoretical and methodological aspects of these questions. Proposals are accepted until September 20th. Please email with questions or send the proposal to: Duncan Faherty, Associate Professor, Department of English, Queens College & the CUNY Graduate Center (duncan.faherty@qc.cuny.edu).

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