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Taking his cue from Philadelphia-born novelist Charles Brockden Brown’s Annals of Europe and America, which contends that America is shaped most noticeably by the international struggle between Great Britain and France for control of the world trade market, Stephen Shapiro charts the advent, decline, and reinvigoration of the early American novel. That the American novel “sprang so unexpectedly into published existence during the 1790s” may be a reflection of the beginning of the end of Franco-British supremacy and of the power of a middle class riding the crest of a new world economic system.
Shapiro’s world-systems approach is a relatively new methodology for literary studies, but it brings two particularly useful features to the table. First, it refines the conceptual frameworks for analyzing cultural and social history, such as the rise in sentimentalism, in relation to a long-wave economic history of global commerce; second, it fosters a new model for a comparative American studies across time. Rather than relying on contiguous time, a world-systems approach might compare the cultural production of one region to another at the same location within the recurring cycle in an economic reconfiguration. Shapiro offers a way of thinking about the causes for the emergence of the American novel that suggests a fresh approach to the paradigms shaping American studies.
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Stephen Shapiro is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick.Review:
Honorable Mention: British Association for American Studies Book Prize 2009 for best book in American Studies published during 2008. --British Association of American Studies
His chapter on Arthur Mervyn is probably the best recent discussion of that novel and is central to exposing the influence of ... Atlantic slavery and the reexport trade.
--Karen Weyler, Comparative Literary Studies
An extraordinarily ambitious book... [with] conceptual flair and analytical nuance Shapiro adds to our image of the American novel, the bourgeoisie, and the global economy of the 1790s... magisterial.--Konstantin Dierks, Modern Philology
One of the best introductions to the late-eighteenth-century Atlantic world available anywhere and ought to be required reading for an introduction to the period in any discipline.
--Michelle Burnham, Eighteenth-Century Studies
The vigor of the argument is a measure of the book's achievement: Culture and Commerce is a massive, often brilliant, utterly original synthesis exposing important elements of the period's structure of feeling.
--Joseph Fichtelberg, Early American Literature
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