However much they might differ in their receptiveness to a criticism that has been updated to reflect a special attunement, say, to aestheticism, historicism, emotionalism, or (post)secularism, increasing ranks of today’s readers would appear to agree on this: the time is right for a change in our critical attitudes, in the mindsets and the moods with which we approach our critical labors. Representative in this regard are two recent works that examine the experiments in literary fiction that characterized the early national period of a nascent United States. The root assumption of one of these studies—that politics is both the proper topic and the obvious source of significance for the young republic’s literature—marks a contested point of critical inquiry in the other.

As for the former of these works, American Enchantment aligns itself with commentators like Christopher Castiglia, Nancy Bentley, and Rita...

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