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About Early American Fiction 1789–1875

Early American Fiction 1789–1875 is the latest product of an ongoing collaboration between ProQuest and the University of Virginia Library. In 1996 University of Virginia Library received a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to digitize and publish its unique collections of early American fiction. This made possible the first Chadwyck-Healey Early American Fiction 1789–1850 database, completed in 2000, which offered preservation-quality facsimile page images and keyword-searchable full text for more than four hundred works of American fiction published before 1850. Early American Fiction 1789–1875, the second phase of this project, has been made possible by further sponsorship from the Mellon Foundation.

Early Early American Fiction 1789–1875 extends the coverage of its predecessor by twenty-five years (18511875) and incorporates the full text of more than 300 additional titles and over 50 new authors, including Louisa May Alcott, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain, as well as a host of minor writers of the period. In its entirety, Early American Fiction 1789–1875 offers more than 730 works of fiction by more than 130 authors.

Early American Fiction 1789–1875 incorporates all of the texts from phase one of the project, including first editions of works by James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Other highlights of the pre–1850 content include William Hill Brown's The Power of Sympathy, which has been recognized as the first American novel, 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.

As part of Early American Fiction 1789–1875 this content is fully cross-searchable with a comprehensive array of novels and short stories from the third quarter of the nineteenth century, including Melville's Moby Dick, Twain's first book The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches, and Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself. William Wells Brown's Clotelle, acknowledged as the first published novel by an African American writer, is represented here by the first US edition of 1864.

Early American Fiction 1789–1875 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 years 1789–1875 saw the publication of many masterpieces of American fiction, 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. Early American Fiction 1789–1875 restores the original literary context of these enduring classics, situating the work of canonical writers alongside numerous novels and short stories popular in their own time but now forgotten and largely inaccessible in print form. Cumulatively the collection casts new light on the early history of the United States, offering scholars an important new way to trace and examine changing patterns of thought and feeling during a crucial period of the nation's development.

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. In some cases the University of Virginia Library has one of the few existing copies of the edition. In the EAF project, therefore, we are using first editions from the University of Virginia Library that meet the following criteria:

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

Early American Fiction 1789–1875 contains more than 730 titles that meet these criteria for the period 1789–1875, including numerous multi-volume works. In total the collection consists of 882 printed volumes comprising more than 225,000 printed pages.


Each title in Early American Fiction 1789–1875 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.