The Robinson Library >> Linguistics, Languages, and Literatures >> American Literature >> 19th Century
Charles Brockden BrownCharles Brockden Brown

the first American novelist to win an international reputation

Charles Brockden Brown was born of Quaker parents in Philadelphia on January 17, 1771. A sickly child, he devoted himself to study instead of physical activities. One of his principal "amusements" was the invention of ideal architectural designs, which eventually grew into a talent for designing Utopian-type communities. This talent would in turn lead to his authoring a series of novels distinguished by the ingenuity and consistent evolution of the plot.

After a short legal career, Brown decided in 1793 to become a writer, an occupation that was then considered a hobby or a pasttime. Many of Brown's stories were similar to the Gothic horror novels that were then popular in England. The novels had American settings and usually pitted an innocent youth against a villain. He wrote his best-known novels while living in New York, from 1798 to 1801. Despite his international popularity, however, Brown was unable to support himself as a novelist and returned to Philadelphia in 1801, where he made his living as a magazine editor and merchant until his death. He died of consumption (tuberculosis) on February 22, 1810.

The Works of Charles Brockden Brown

Carsol -- a romance depicting an imaginary community
The Dialogue of Alcuin (1797) -- an essay on the question of woman's rights and liberties
Wieland; or the Transformation (1798) -- a mystery is resolved into a case of ventriloquism
Arthur Mervyn (1798-1800) -- describes the epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia
Ormond (1799)
Edgar Huntly (1801) -- notable for the effective use made of somnambulism and for the introduction of the American Indian into fiction

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This page was last updated on 01/10/2017.