The Novel of Purpose
Literature and Social Reform in the Anglo-American World
In the nineteenth century, Great Britain and the United States shared a single literary marketplace that linked the reform movements, as well as the literatures, of the two nations. The writings of transatlantic reformers—antislavery, temperance, and suffrage activists—gave novelists a new sense of purpose and prompted them to invent new literary forms. The result was a distinctively Anglo-American realism, in which novelists, conceiving of themselves as reformers, sought to act upon their readers—and, through their readers, the world. Indeed, reform became so predominant that many novelists borrowed from reformist writings even though they were skeptical of reform itself. Among them are some of the century's most important authors: Anne Brontë, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Elizabeth Stoddard, and Mark Twain.