Although John Pendleton Kennedy states definitely that Swallow Barn is not a novel, it is usually listed as such because of the continuous theme running through it. In reality the book is a series of sketches or dramatic episodes concerned with plantation life and manners in Virginia during the early eighteenth century; the sketches are held together by a continuity of characters and of events. Swallow Barn, the first work of popular fiction to be set in Virginia, was the forerunner of a large number of novels dealing with the historic background of that state.
Had Kennedy approached literature as a profession rather than as an avocation, he might have become one of America’s most important nineteenth century writers; but he felt his first obligation was to his career, initially as a lawyer in Baltimore, where his second marriage allied him firmly to the business community, and, subsequently, in the face of growing political and sectional unrest, as a man of public affairs, serving terms in the Maryland House of Delegates, the U.S. House of Representatives, and as the secretary of the U.S. Navy. In between legal, business, and political commitments, he managed to write three very different novels: Swallow Barn; Horse-Shoe Robinson (1835), a historical novel about the Revolutionary War in South Carolina; and Rob of the Bowl (1838), a “Cavalier Romance” of Colonial Maryland. In addition, he produced...
(The entire section is 562 words.)