Kelroy: A Novel (1812) by Rebecca Rush
'Sup, all you lovers of old, obscure literature, do I have a book for YOU.
Now, you may or may not have heard of Kelroy or Rebecca Rush before, but you know about her now. And that's a great thing. Because the woman could WRITE, and even make you laugh out loud in a Jane-Austen-y kind of way.
Why, you ask, is Kelroy so obscure if it's so good? Well, the poor woman had the terrible luck of getting her novel published just before the War of 1812- you know, when the British and Americans went in for a second round. Everyone was so hung up on war and the British coming back and everything that no one really paid attention to novels published during those years.
And yet, here we are talking about this novel. That is in large part thanks to late-20th century scholarship that brought women's writing from the last two centuries back into public view. I first read Kelroy in an Early American Literature class in grad school, right alongside Irving's Sketch-Book and Charles Brockden Brown's bizarre (but awesome) novels. Though writing in 1812, Rush has a fresh, jubilant voice (again, like Austen) that belies her novel's age.
In short, Kelroy focuses on a woman's quest to marry off her eligible daughters after the unexpected death of her husband. The contradictions of social and class interests shape how we see these girls making the rounds of the marriage market. And despite the social and economic constraints that early American women lived with at the time, the Hamilton daughters try to forge their own paths to the "right" men.
Oh, and if you thought "Rush" sounded familiar, then yes- Rebecca was indeed the niece of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and friend of Thomas Jefferson. Very cool.