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THE HISTORY OF CONSTANTIUS AND PULCHERA, OR, CONSTANCY REWARDED

THE HISTORY OF CONSTANTIUS AND PULCHERA, OR, CONSTANCY REWARDED (1801). Anonymously authored, The History of
Constantius and Pulchera is a forty-six page sea romance. The story opens
in Philadelphia with sixteen-year-old Pulchera, daughter of a successful merchant, locked in her bedroom. She is due to set sail for France with Monsieur LeMonte, son of a French nobleman and the man her father is forcing
her to marry. Her true love, Constantius, has been abducted and reportedly
killed by British seamen while attempting to rescue her from being forced
to follow her father’s will. All hope of rescue exhausted, Pulchera embarks
on her voyage with LeMonte.
The sea functions, as it does in ancient Greek romances, as an obstacle
to the lovers’ union. A few weeks into the voyage, Pulchera and LeMonte’s
ship is overtaken by a British warship. Taken aboard the latter, Pulchera discovers that Constantius is also a pas senger, alive and well. A storm destroys the warship, and from here on the couple must endure shipwrecks*
and separations.
The larger part of the narrative focuses, however, on Pulchera. Washed
up alone on a beach, she is rescued by an American privateer, forced to
pretend she is a sailor by the name of Valorus when again captured by the
British, and once more shipwrecked. Pulchera and her fellow sailors struggle
to survive a winter in a frozen wilderness before they are finally picked up
in the spring by a ship bound for Great Britain. She travels to France, where,
having withstood the forces of patriarchal control, British and French imperialism, and nature, she is reunited with Constantius. Monsieur LeMonte
releases her from her engagement; Constantius and Pulchera sail for America, where her father, repentant, gives his blessing. They marry and, one
assumes, live happily ever after.
As Thomas Philbrick commented in James Fenimore Cooper* and the Development of American Sea Fiction (1961), Constantius and Pulchera is
“[t]he earliest American example of the extensive use of nautical elements
in prose fiction. . . . But in spite of all this prolonged and violent nautical
action, the author gives almost no sense of the ship, the sailor, or the sea”
(29–30).