Although paranoia is prominent in the work of many celebrated twentieth-century American writers, its literary influence is evident from the beginning of American literature. Through a careful examination of the work of the canonical nineteenth-century novelists (Brockden Brown, Hawthorne, Melville and Twain), Mike Davis traces conspiracies and conspiratorial fantasy from one narrative site to another, establishing a trajectory according to which paranoia is gradually shifted from within the consciousness of characters in fictive worlds to the world of the flesh-and-blood readers. Placing these novelists' work alongside behavioural and cultural patterns in society, this book offers an explanation for the attractiveness of paranoid thinking to the American readership.

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