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First American Novel – This Day in History, Jan 21, 2023


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It was just 234 years ago today, January 21, 1789, that the first American Novel was published in Boston. The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature, authored by William Brown, brought American literature out of the United States and into the literary world. Though America had been independent since 1776, and the Revolution over and won in 1783, American literature had not been widely excepted by foreigners, let alone fellow Americans.

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Brown’s novel was both sinful and tragic, as it involves a sordid love affair between the two main characters, but a love that is forbidden. It turns out that Thomas Harrington, and Harriot Fawcet, are actually brother and sister, Harriot the result of an affair their father had hidden. This they did not know until after their love had been consummated. Harriot ends up dying after her life spirals into chaos, and Harrington, commits suicide.

A tragic story to be sure, but a good read as well. Most of the book is in epistolary form, which means it is written in letter or journal form, which I personally believe allows the reader to delve into the characters minds. Even though it was 234 years ago, the storyline would fit in nicely with the novels of today.

What was happening yesterday, January 20th?


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