"American Love Stories" argues for the continuity between two traditions often taken to be antagonistic: the sentimental novel of the mid-nineteenth century and the high modernism of Henry James. This continuity emerges in the love stories tracked here, from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Gates Ajar, through Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance and Herman Melville's Pierre, to Elizabeth Stoddard's The Morgesons and James's The Golden Bowl. In these love stories--the other side of the gothic tradition described by Leslie Fiedler--desire is performed rather than repressed, and the self is less a private container than a public exhibit. This literary-historical claim works in tandem with the dissertation's argument for revising narrative ethics. The recent ethical turn in literary criticism understands literature as practically engaging the emotions, especially varieties of love, that shape our social lives. It figures reading as a love story in its own right: an encounter with a text that might grant us intimacy with an authorial persona or else spurn our desire to grasp its alterity. Narrative ethics thereby enables literary criticism to speak to moral and political questions about how reading fiction might shape our lived experience of self and other. And narrative ethics offers an antidote to methodologies that would reduce a text to a cultural symptom, giving literary critics, instead, theoretical tools to evaluate the sense of otherness and intimacy that reading can evoke. But in imagining the text-as-other, narrative ethics relies on a deep model of subjectivity that isolates the text from its cultural moment. Historicist methods offer an instructive supplement by reading selves and texts alike as flatter entities embedded in discursive networks. Maintaining narrative ethics' notion of the text as the other, this dissertation employs historicist techniques to read novels as thoroughly engaged with their cultural milieu. The dissertation tracks the novels' preoccupations, which direct attention toward surrounding discourses like religious devotional guides, art criticism, and interior decoration. One payoff of this hybrid methodology is to put into conversation texts that have often been divorced from each other in the criticism and thus to bring to light overlooked aspects of each. Read as a starting point for Jamesian psychological realism, sentimental love looks less like an ideological smokescreen, as it can in historicist criticism, and more like a viable description of self-other relations. When James is read as an inheritor of the sentimental mode, his self-conscious difficulty, highlighted in narrative ethics, gets complicated by his relish for the scenic and the melodramatic. Further, by recapturing the historical antecedents of the American love story, this dissertation provides an intellectual history of narrative ethics' commitment to an ideal of reading that is deep and emotional. The dissertation finds sources for this ideal in mid-nineteenth century Protestant guides urging believers to read the Bible deeply, as a love letter from God. Finally, this hybrid methodology tracks in the love stories themselves the persistence of a version of selfhood in the American tradition that is no less lovable for being more surface than depth. This model of subjectivity, and the methodology it sponsors, enables narrative ethics to account for a fuller range of self-other encounters. The text emerges as an other which is at once culturally determined and emotionally compelling.