English, Department of


Date of this Version



From Catherine Maria Sedgewick, CLARENCE, or, A TALE OF OUR OWN TIMES, pp. 9-40.


Copyright 2011, Broadview Press. Used by permission.


Catharine Sedgwick and the American Novel of Manners

In his preface to his novel of manners Home as Found (1838), James Fenimore Cooper repeats what were already commonplaces about American society as the subject matter for fiction. Lamenting "that no attempt to delineate ordinary American life, either on the stage or in the pages of a novel, has been rewarded with successful he admits Home as Found is another such attempt but professes he has "scarcely a hope of success. It would be indeed a desperate undertaking, to think of making anything interesting in the way of a Roman de Société [novel of social life] in this country; still, useful glances may possibly be made in that direction."2 Twentieth-century literary historians largely took Cooper at his word, citing his preface and accepting his judgment that Home as Found was the earliest "glance" in the direction of an American novel of manners. Proclaiming that realistic portrayals of social custom were the appropriate province of the early nineteenth century European novel, but not the American, they argued that antebellum American authors resorted instead to the romance. In this literary historical trajectory, the full flowering of the American novel of manners occurred only late in the century, with the rise of Henry James and EdithWharton.3 Taking account of Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Clarence (1830) troubles this critical narrative on several grounds.