Arthur Mervyn by Charles Brockden Brown
I'm a big fan of Charles Brockden Brown even if his books can sometimes be a tough slog (must-read-twice curlicues of sentences, total implausibility on every level [by today's standards, anyway:], etc.). I really enjoy reading all the crazy/horrible/salacious combinations of infanticide/rape/religious maniac/prostitute-type things he tucks into his stories, partially because I didn't think they were supposed to be acknowledged pre-1960's lit, much less pre-1800's lit! It's refreshing to know not just that people have always been flawed, but also that it's always been entertaining to other people to hear about it in as much detail as possible.
Brown's also interesting because he's one of the first significant American novelists, and you can see some of his influence on the better-known generation that followed (Hawthorne, Poe, etc.). While the later generation tends to be more refined and psychologically realistic, you can still see them wrestling with morality vs. human nature in a land that was supposed to offer a blank slate.
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