The Power of Sympathy

Tpo_Novel-Firsthe Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature (1789) is an 18th-century American sentimental novel written in epistolary form by William Hill Brown, widely considered to be the first American novel. Published by Isaiah Thomas in Boston on January 21, 1789, The Power of Sympathy was Brown’s first novel. The characters’ struggles illustrate the dangers of seduction and the pitfalls of giving in to one’s passions, while advocating the moral education of women and the use of rational thinking as ways to prevent the consequences of such actions.

The novel mirrors a local New England scandal involving Brown’s neighbor Perez Morton’s incestuous seduction of Fanny Apthorp; Apthorp was Morton’s sister-in-law. Apthorp became pregnant and committed suicide, but Morton was not legally punished. The scandal was widely known, so most readers were able to quickly identify the “real” story behind the fiction: “in every essential, Brown’s story is an indictment of Morton and an exoneration of Fanny Apthorp,” with “Martin” and “Ophelia” representing Morton and Apthorp, respectively.