A Novel Idea: an introduction to the novel, the Early American Novel, and The Coquette

What is a novel? This slidedeck accompanies the Mensa Foundation's lesson plan on the Early American novel, and explores what it means to be a novel, what it means to be an American novel, and introduces "The Coquette."
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  • 1. A Novel Idea an introduction to the novel, the Early American Novel, and The Coquette
  • 2. There is a great deal of solemn discussion about The Novel. In fact, every novel is an answer to the ancient plea, “Tell us a story.” ~ Pamela Brown
  • 3. When we discuss a definition of what exactly a novel is, we are discussing how the story is packaged – what form it takes.
  • 4. Define, please… Webster’s says a novel is “a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes.” Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary
  • 5. It’s lacking “considerable length.”
  • 6. Also lacking “considerable length.” This is called a “novella” – a little novel.
  • 7. It’s poetry, not prose.
  • 8. It’s true, so it’s fact, not fiction.
  • 9. What Webster’s doesn’t tell us is that the novel also creates in the reader the feeling that he or she is there in the story watching the action.
  • 10. Novels create in us the feeling that we are experiencing a life separate from our own.
  • 11. Part of this is because, unlike plays or epic poems, the novel was intended to be a private experience between the reader and the book.
  • 12. A novel can be read over the course of days, weeks, or even years. Although read by many people, the experience of reading a novel is intensely personal.
  • 13. That is why people have such different reactions to novels; a tremendous part of what you get out of a novel is what you bring to the novel.
  • 14. Marion C. Garretty said, “A novel is the chance to try on a different life for size.”
  • 15. A long period of development preceded the emergence of what we would call the novel in the English in the 18th Century.
  • 16. Among the predecessors to the novel were romances like the legends of King Arthur.
  • 17. “Yea, and if some god shall wreck me in the wine-dark deep, even so I will endure… For already have I suffered full much, and much have I toiled in perils of waves and war. Let this be added to the tale of those.” “Be strong, saithmy heart; I am a soldier; I have seen worse sights than this.” “Even his griefs are a joy long after to one that remembers all that he wrought and endured.” And epic poems like The Odyssey by Homer.
  • 18. Although your parents would probably rather have you read a novel than do just about anything else…
  • 19. (In fact, it’s possible you get out of chores by saying that you have to read something, you know, for school.)
  • 20. Back then, novels were seen as dangerous and corrupting. Looking at this quote, let’s substitute the term “rap music” for “romances, novels, and plays” and see what we come up with:
  • 21. “The free access which many young people have to rap music romances, novels, and plays has poisoned the mind and corrupted the morals of many a promising youth; and prevented others from improving their minds in useful knowledge.” ~ Enos Hitchcock
  • 22. Also, girls (to whom the novels were aimed) should have been doing something better with their time.
  • 23. Another argument against novels was that reading about all of these romantic, heroic men might create expectations in young girls that real men couldn’t meet.
  • 24. Another crucial argument against the reading of novels was that unlike the Bible or sermons, which were interpreted or needed to be interpreted by an authority figure, reading a novel was an individual experience.
  • 25. The person reading the novel didn’t need someone else to tell the reader what it meant. A number of people used to having authority and control over what kinds of things people read were very uncomfortable with this idea.
  • 26. You could find as many DIFFERENT ANSWERS to what the first truly American novel was as you found people to ask.
  • 27. If you used the criteria that the novel had to be written by a person born in America published in America set in America and written about American issues
  • 28. Then there would be a clear FRONTRUNNER.
  • 29. The WINNER The Power of Sympathy William Hill Brown, published in 1789
  • 30. It’s a seduction novel, meaning that it features a naïve girl who is seduced by a bad guy. She becomes pregnant or otherwise has her virtue sullied in some way, and then dies.
  • 31. It’s an epistolary novel, meaning that it is written in the form of a series of letters {epistles}. This was a very popular style of writing at the time..
  • 32. forms were 4 common among Early American Novels.
  • 33. 1 Sentimental. These were novels based on sentimentality, or feelings, as opposed to logic and reason. In Sentimental novels, the emphasis is on the goodness of humanity.
  • 34. 2 Picaresque. Picaresque novels focus on a hero, usually a trickster, who has a series of adventures.
  • 35. 3 Gothic. Gothic novels featured castles, ruined abbeys, superstition, and maniacal people who looked deceptively normal from the outside.
  • 36. 4 Frontier. Frontier stories, like The Last of the Mohicans, were filled with nostalgia. They attempted to unify the spirit of what it meant to be American.
  • 37. Lastly, let’s look at the novel we’ll be reading.
  • 38. The Coquette written by Hannah Webster Foster and published anonymously in 1797
  • 39. Foster’s epistolary novel was very popular for a long time, remaining in print for thirty years after its initial publication.
  • 40. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW But we promise that they’ll help you enjoy the novel even more.
  • 41. Based on the story of the real life Elizabeth Whitman, it tells the story of Eliza Wharton, a girl from a good family who falls in love with a man who is secretly engaged to someone else.
  • 42. BORING! She’s got another suitor, Boyer, who is a minister, but he’s not as exciting as Sanford, the one who is engaged to someone else .
  • 43. Her friends try to warn her about Sanford, but she just won’t listen.
  • 44. His relationship with Eliza continues even after his marriage, and Eliza dies of a fever after giving birth to a dead baby.
  • 45. Because the novel is told in epistolary form, you will have to look to the end of the letter to see who is writing.
  • 46. Don’t complain about this, as you probably don’t put your own name at the top of letters you write, either.
  • 47. So if you’re READY Let’s read!
  • 48. To get your very own FREE COPY Just click
  • 49. Credits: Images from Pixabay except as otherwise noted. Images with text embedded created with Photofunia or Picmonkey. Image on Slide 9 by Jonathan Lin,, Black & white library image by Daniel Dalton on flickr Black & white young woman reading byTimo Neumann Power of Sympathy image courtesy of William Reese Company Man on Telly by Lubs Mary tream/ Flirt by debaird Sepia-toned books by Hellmy All Flickr images shared with this license: The design of some of the slides was based on designs by @ned_potter.
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