Date of this Version
Early American Literature (2010) 45(3): 619-654.
The contention that Charlotte is best understood as part of Rowson’s career, a career that spanned a period of years and the Atlantic Ocean, is central to our analysis and to the recovery of Rowson’s authorial agency. In Women and Authorship in Revolutionary America, Angela Vietto argues for the importance of the “literary career” as a category of analysis for women, of “examinin[g] the course writers followed in their pursuit of writing as a vocation—their progress in a variety of kinds of projects, both in their texts and in their performances as authors” (91). Although we leave the work of textual analysis across the range of Rowson’s literary works to other scholars, we take up the work of recovering American’s first best-selling novel as part of a transatlantic career that Rowson herself constructed and made visible.
As a recent surge in transatlantic readings of Rowson’s work testifies, the facts of Rowsons’s biography make a transatlantic approach nearly inevitable. Born Susanna Haswell in England in 1762, she moved to the American colonies at the age of five and spent her childhood happily in Massachusetts until the Revolutionary War intervened. A prisoner exchange returned her Loyalist family to England in 1778. Fifteen years later, in 1793, a married Susanna Rowson embarked on her third Atlantic crossing with her husband, William, to join Thomas Wignell’s theater company in Philadelphia. As Jeffrey Richards aptly argues, Rowson’s theatrical career embodies the Anglo-American transatlanticism of the early American theater, making “Rowson . . . herself the space or hyphen between the two English-speaking cultures.”