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date: 24 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Historical Sketches is a book-length ensemble of unfinished historical-fiction fragments, dispersed in three print sources, that date from the 1803–1807 years of Charles Brockden Brown’s Literary Magazine and likely primarily from 1805 to 1806. It stands as his longest and most experimental fictional project. This chapter reviews textual issues that have hindered fuller scholarly response to date, as well as the close relations between this c. 1805 ensemble, analogous career-long projects, and Brown’s theory of romance as conjectural history, from 1792 to 1793 forward. It surveys the general features of the ensemble on three levels: (1) the world-systemic geographical-historical scope of the narrative, which emphasizes periphery-center dynamics and uneven development; (2) its depiction of modernizing governmental and disciplinary systems, in which cultural practices are recognized as social-ideological technologies; and (3) its metafictional, metageneric reflections on Romantic-era “historical romance” as a symptom of the period’s emergent nostalgic medievalism and nationalist ideologies.

Keywords: Charles Brockden Brown, Historical Sketches, romance, historical fiction, romanticism, liberal capitalism, theory of the novel, historicism

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