Just Teach One

Amelia; or the Faithless Briton (1789)

Fall 2012 – Just Teach One no. 1
Prepared by Duncan Faherty (Queens College & The CUNY Graduate Center) and Ed White (University of Florida)


Frontispiece for Amelia; or the Faithless Briton. Boston: Spotswood and Wayne, 1798.



Amelia; or the Faithless Briton (1789)
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Teaching Reflections



Amelia: or the Faithless Briton, labeled “An Original Novel, Founded Upon Recent Facts,” first appeared in The Columbian Magazine in late 1787. [1] The magazine, published from Philadelphia, was among the most prominent and ornate of the period: issues regularly included engravings, contemporary music, and essays, poetry, and fiction by eminent writers of the time. The physician Benjamin Rush published a series of essays on contemporary social issues, including slavery, in the 1787 numbers, and Jeremy Belknap serialized The Foresters, an allegorical novel about US independence, in its pages as well. Elizabeth Graeme Ferguson, Francis Hopkinson, and John Trumbull published poetry in its pages, Charles Brockden Brown’s essay series “The Rhapsodist” appeared there in 1789, and a number of new works by American authors—Royall Tyler’s play “The Contrast,” Noah Webster’s collected essays, and Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s Modern Chivalry, for example— were reviewed in its pages. Prominent nonfiction works—biographical sketches by Belknap, an early history of the American Revolution, an early biography of Benjamin Franklin—appeared therein as well, though fiction always figures prominently. Edward Pitcher’s bibliography of magazine fiction lists several works of fiction, much original, in virtually every issue before the magazine folded in 1792. [2] When Amelia appeared, it did so alongside the oriental tale “The Complaint of Iman” and an installment of The Foresters, and beside essays on “religion in general,” the development of the arts in ancient Egypt, vision’s relation to passion, Quebec, and the Canary Islands.

Amelia was successful and popular enough to enjoy multiple reprinting, including in The Massachusetts Magazine in 1789, The New-York Magazine, or Literary Repository in 1795, The Philadelphia Minerva in 1797, The New-York Weekly Magazine; or, Miscellaneous Repository in 1797, and The Lady’s Weekly Miscellany in 1810. There was also a 1798 printing in Boston, which grouped the novel with Galatea, a Pastoral Romance, the unrelated story Amelia, or Malevolence Defeated, and the poem “Miss Seward’s Monody on Major André.” [3]

1. The first part appeared in the October issue, pages 667-82, the second in a supplementary issue, 877-80. For discussions of the magazine, see Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850 (New York: Appleton & Co., 1930); American Literary Magazines: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, ed. Edward E. Chielens (New York: Greenwood, 1986), 112-16; and William J. Free, The Columbian Magazine and American Literary Nationalism (Paris: Mouton, 1968).

2. Edward W. R. Pitcher, Fiction in American Magazines Before 1800: An Annotated Catalogue (Schenectady, NY: Union College Press, 1993), 194-97.

3. Many scholarly references to Amelia refer to this 1798 omnibus edition.


Suggestions for further reading

Lillie Deming Loshe briefly mentions Amelia as “the oldest really American tale of the Revolution”; see Loshe, The Early American Novel, 1789-1830 (1907; New York: Frederick Ungar, 1966), 61. Terence Martin groups Amelia among a number of proto-historical novels which consider the American Revolution before the publication of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy (1821), arguing that in these earlier texts “the war is never brought close, is never, in our terms, made realistic”; see Martin, “Social Institutions in the Early American Novel,” American Quarterly9:1 (1957), 76. Cathy Davidson mentions Amelia in passing, but does reproduce an interesting illustration which often accompanied publications of the text; see Davidson, Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 114­-Tara Fitzpatrick considers the political implications of Amelia by thinking about how “Amelia sacrifices her life rather than accede to the sacrifice of her liberty–figured here not as her independence but as her right to consent, to contract”; see Fitzpatrick, “Liberty, Corruption and Seduction in the Republican Imagination,” Connotations 4.1-2 (1994/5), Karen Weyler suggestively examines how Amelia differs from the female protagonists of other early American seduction narratives, and in so doing interrogates how the novel features an “anxiety over female agency”; see Weyler, Intricate Relations: Sexual and Economic Desire in American Fiction, 1789-1814 (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004), 100. Finally, Leonard Tennenhouse refers to Amelia as among the first U.S. seduction narratives in his exploration of the prevalence of the genre in the early Republic, see chapter two (“The Sentimental Libertine”) of Tennenhouse, The Importance of Feeling English: American Literature and the British Diaspora, 1750-1850 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

Teaching Reflections

The following are responses written by participants who have included this text in their teachings.

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