The Algerine Captive
or, The Life and Adventures of Doctor Updike Underhill
Publication Date: July 9, 2002
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A predecessor of both the nativist humor of Mark Twain and the exotic adventure stories of Washington Irving, Herman Melville, and Richard Dana, Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive is an entertaining romp through eighteenth-century society, a satiric look at a variety of American types, from the backwoods schoolmaster to the southern gentleman, and a serious exposé of the horrors of the slave trade. “In stylistic purity and the clarity with which Tyler investigates and dramatizes American manners,” the critic Jack B. Moore has noted, The Algerine Captive “stands alone in our earliest fiction.” It is also one of the first attempts by an American novelist to depict the Islamic world, and lays bare a culture clash and diplomatic quagmire not unlike the one that obtains between the United States and Muslim nations today.
Caleb Crain is the author of American Sympathy: Men, Friendship, and Literature in the New Nation. He lives in Brooklyn.
“American literature cannot be charged with poverty while it has such valuables [as Royall Tyler] uninvested in its forgotten repositories.”—Evert A. Duyckinck