Susanna Rowson Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

ph_0111207111-Rowson.jpg Susanna Rowson. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Susanna Rowson (ROWZ-uhn) was a prolific, well-rounded writer. In addition to her ten works of long fiction, she produced three volumes of poetry: Poems on Various Subjects (1788), A Trip to Parnassus (1788), and Miscellaneous Poems (1804). Between 1794 and 1797, she wrote approximately seven dramatic works, most of which were probably performed but not published; the most popular of these was Slaves in Algiers: Or, A Struggle for Freedom (pr., pb. 1794). She also composed the lyrics for numerous songs and contributed to the production of at least two periodicals: the Boston Weekly Magazine, for which she wrote articles on a wide range of subjects and apparently also served as editor between 1802 and 1805, and the New England Galaxy, which was founded in 1817 and for which Rowson wrote chiefly religious and devotional prose pieces. Finally, she wrote and had published six pedagogical works: An Abridgement of Universal Geography (1805), A Spelling Dictionary (1807), A Present for Young Ladies (1811), Youth’s First Step in Geography (1818), Exercises in History (1822), and Biblical Dialogues (1822).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Opinions of Susanna Rowson’s achievements as a novelist have fluctuated widely since the nineteenth century. Earlier critics highly praised the moral tendency of her work and her storytelling skills, while later estimates have tended to disparage both and to find her writing limited and ordinary.

Among the handful of Americans who wrote novels in the late eighteenth century, Rowson was both the most prolific and the most coherent. As Dorothy Weil has shown, a well-developed system of aims and values emerges from all of Rowson’s writings and gives her work notable unity and breadth. In particular, as Weil has demonstrated, Rowson’s belief in gender equality and her concern with feminist issues and positive goals for women deserve wider recognition than they have received. In other respects, Rowson’s novels are typical of the novelist’s theory and practice in newly independent America and are interesting and revealing as a window on the nature of fiction in the late eighteenth century.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brown, Herbert Ross. The Sentimental Novel in America: 1789-1860. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975. Rowson is included in a thorough discussion of this genre. Reasons for the enduring popularity of Charlotte Temple are explained.

Davidson, Cathy N. Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. Davidson’s superb interdisciplinary study of the eighteenth century “reading revolution” highlights commonplace responses to the extraordinarily popular Charlotte Temple and analyzes Rowson’s complex characterization of the villain Montraville. Argues that Rowson’s plots of “sexual crime and feminine punishment” expose society’s double standard of justice. Rowson’s other novels are briefly discussed.

Parker, Patricia L. Susanna Rowson. Boston: Twayne, 1986. An inclusive biography, including discussions of the majors works of Rowson.

Stern, Julia A. The Plight of Feeling: Sympathy and Dissent in the Early American Novel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. Studies Charlotte Temple, Hannah Webster Foster’s Coquette, and Charles Brockden Brown’s Ormond.

Weil, Dorothy. In Defense of Women: Susanna Rowson (1762-1824). University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976. Weil defends Rowson from male critics who focus on the didactic nature of Rowson’s writings. Her contributions to the education of girls and women in the early republic are thoroughly discussed.