George Lippard

George Lippard

By David S. Reynolds



The only full-length study of this fascinating 19th-century American novelist, journalist, social activist, and labor organizer.

“Brimming over with suggestive insights”
Adrienne Siegel, Journal of American History


About the Book

Long neglected, George Lippard (1822-1854) is now recognized as an important figure in Amer­ican literary and cultural history. In his brief life this volatile Phil­adelphian became widely known as a novelist, social reformer, lecturer, journalist, and newspaper editor. His lurid fictional expose of Philadelphia’s elite classes, The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall (1844-45) stirred controversy and became, as Lippard wrote in 1849, “more attacked, and more read, than any work of American fiction ever published.” Lippard’s working-class fiction earned him notoriety as “the Eugene Sue of America.” At the same time, his fictional “legends” of American history were widely admired and sometimes accepted as fact: for instance, his story of the ringing of the Liberty Bell on July 4, 1776, became a national folk myth that found its way into several respectable histories. A reviewer for Godey’s Ladies Book commented in 1848 that Lippard “stands isolated on a point inaccessible to the mass of writers of the present day. He is unquestionably the most popular writer of the day, and his books are sold, edition after edition, thousand after thousand, while those of others accumulate, like useless lumber, on the shelves of the publishers.” An outspoken defender of the poor against their capi­talist oppressors–his views were close in spirit to those of his contemporary Karl Marx– Lippard put his reformist theories into practice by founding the Brotherhood of the Union (later renamed the Brotherhood of America), a nationwide labor organization that influenced the founding of the powerful Knights of Labor and survived until the 1980s.

Reynolds shows that Lippard, an innovative writer, forged from tested literary modes like Gothic fiction and sensational journalism new best-selling formulae that pointed toward such later genres as the city novel, muckraking fiction, the gangster story, biblical and Social Gospel fiction, and modern fiction of the grotesque and surreal.  Reynolds also probes Lippard’s close relationship with Edgar Allan Poe and his connections with other American writers, including Charles Brockden Brown, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Mark Twain.


“The first intelligent, comprehensive, critical account of this fiery Philadelphian’s life and writings…Especially impressive is Reynolds’s discussion of Lippard’s style and fictional devices…Reynolds deserves high praise for George Lippard. His unprecedented close analysis of a writer of widely ranging interests and abilities makes Reynolds’s a valuable contribution to Twayne’s United States Authors Series. ” –Carla Mulford, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

“Brimming over with suggestive insights….In this concise book David S. Reynolds crosses the frontier of literary criticism and cultural history…A vital contribution toward our understanding of a talented popularizer who plugged into the fantasies of a generation both frightened and fascinated by the nation’s first urban explosion. Reynolds’s welcome addition to our understanding of popular culture in the antebellum era chronicles the rise of a new style of fiction targeted for a mobile audience.” –Adrienne Siegel, Journal of American History

“Judicious and well-written…The readers of this study will want to sample some of the richness and complexity of Lippard’s writings.” –Pennsylvania History