Faith in Fiction: The Emergence of Religious Literature in America
by David S. Reynolds
A wide-ranging investigation of American religious culture and some 250 writers in the age from Jonathan Edwards to Emerson and beyond.
“A pioneering work…..An interesting and important book.”
—Nina Baym, Journal of English and Germanic Philology
About the Book
The first full-length study of early religious fiction from the Revolution to the Civil War, this book explores a long forgotten genre of writing. Ranging over the fiction of some 250 American writers, Reynolds provides an overview of the bestsellers of their time and the popular culture of the period. The literary movement he traces began as a cautiously allegorical one, and he finds that it evolved into a fairly realistic genre by the mid-nineteenth century. This shift from the metaphysical to the earthly was abetted by the authors’ uses of a variety of appealing modes: the oriental and visionary tale, historical fiction on biblical themes, and the domestic novel.
Reynolds’ study addresses several questions: When did religion first appear in American fiction, and why was the novel increasingly chosen as the appropriate literary mode of popular inspiration? How could theology become entertainment? In what sense does the rhetorical strategy of this fiction reflect changing ways of religious discussion? How can the sermons, essays, or memoirs of the early writers help us to understand the themes and techniques of their fiction?
This is the only book on the popular religious aesthetic between the age of Jonathan Edwards and Emerson. Some authors discussed are: Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Brockden Brown, Susanna Rowson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Catharine Sedgwick, Lydia Maria Child, Robert Montgomery Bird, Sylvester Judd, William Ware, Orestes Brownson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Susan Warner, Maria Susanna Cummins, Henry Ward Beecher, and George Lippard, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward, and Mark Twain.