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About Early American Fiction 1789–1850

Chadwyck-Healey has partnered with the University of Virginia Library, who in 1996 received a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to digitise and publish on the Web 560 rare volumes of early American fiction. Called Early American Fiction 1789–1850, the resulting collection provides electronic texts of a well-defined and comprehensive corpus of early American fiction.

The texts chosen for the project include first printings of works by James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and other novels and short stories. The collection also includes what has been recognised as the first American novel, William Hill Brown's The Power of Sympathy, and extremely rare items such as the American printing of Susanna Haswell Rowson's Charlotte and Joseph Holt Ingraham's Alice May or The Lost of Mount Auburn.

Early American Fiction 1789–1850 presents the opportunity to study scholarly use of original rare books and of their computer simulacra, and to determine the extent to which electronic texts of rare books can serve scholars.

Editorial Policy

The 75 years up to 1850 were marked by some masterpieces of American novels and short stories, such as James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. In addition to these well-known works, there were also numerous publications popular in their own time but now forgotten. All of these works, however, cast light on the early days of the United States, and they are worth studying in order to examine patterns of thought when the US was still young.  Early American Fiction 1789–1850 aims to provide coverage of major authors and their neglected contemporaries.

Two standard bibliographies describe classic American literature. Wright's American Fiction 1774–1850 lists all works of fiction published from the first story up to 1850; the Bibliography of American Literature (BAL) lists the original editions of the most important authors of American literature, as chosen by a committee of the Modern Language Association of America. The University of Virginia Library is fortunate to have two of the world's major collections of rare first editions of American fiction in its Barrett and Taylor collections. In these collections most of the first editions in Wright and BAL are available, and in some cases the University of Virginia Library has one of the few surviving copies of the edition. Thus Early American Fiction 1789–1850 offers the full text of works that meet the following criteria:

  • the author is in BAL
  • the edition is listed in Wright
  • the University of Virginia Library has a first edition of the work

In total, Early American Fiction 1789–1850 comprises 421 titles in 560 volumes by 81 authors, containing more than 125,000 pages.


Each title in Early American Fiction 1789–1850 is available in its entirety as a series of facsimile page images in full colour, including text, illustrations, spine, endpapers, covers and edges.

The entire text of each individual work, with all prefatory matter and annotation, is also included as keyed full text synchronised with the page image set. All accompanying material, such as contents pages, appendices, dedications, errata lists, etc., also appears in keyed form, along with publisher's advertisements for other texts.