The Neutral Ground: The André Affair and the Background of Cooper's The Spy

By Bruce A. Rosenberg | Go to book overview

13
An American Novel

Cooper had begun writing The Spy before he was working on his first novel, Precaution, but the work went slowly. It was to be his first "American" novel, and so it was important to him; he intended to answer, implicitly, Sidney Smith's famous challenging question, "In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book?" Cooper was very conscious of the challenge implied in Smith's rhetorical query; he had thoroughly interiorized it. From early childhood, Cooper was aware of Americans' diffidence when confronted with all things British, and his countrymen's love for many aspects of British culture, especially literature, politics, and morals ( Grossman 1949, p. 14). He was himself diffident about writing this American novel, and uncertain about the project. Then, in the fall of 1820 Cooper put The Spy aside as being "too great a financial risk" ( Wallace 1986, p. 85).

Writing an American novel--about American subjects, set in America, peopled with Americans--was going to be an especially difficult task for him for several reasons: the literary ground was uncharted, American scenes and characters were too familiar to his countrymen, and their familiarity with subject and background would evoke their contempt of his efforts; or so he feared. If Cooper was going to make any factual mistakes in this novel, his audience would immediately know it. Patriotism in those early days just after the Revolution often amounted to little more than financial concern; and he was reluctant to compete with fellow countryman James Brockton Brown ( Wallace 1986, p. 87). As he wrote in the preface to the first edition of The Spy, "There are several reasons why an American, who writes a novel, should choose

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The Neutral Ground: The André Affair and the Background of Cooper's The Spy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Part One - Major André 1
  • 1 - Hanging is for Spies 3
  • 2 - The Gentleman's Code 9
  • 3 - The Blackest Treason 15
  • 4 - A Gentleman's Education 19
  • 5 - The Arnold Enlistment 27
  • 6 - This is a Spy! 41
  • 7 - Posthumous Encomia 51
  • Part Two - James Fenimore Cooper 61
  • 8 - The André Affair and the Spy 63
  • 9 - André and Cooper 73
  • 10 - Cooper and the Spy Novel 83
  • 11 - The McDonald Papers 87
  • 12 - The Neutral Ground 95
  • Part Three - The Spy 103
  • 13 - An American Novel 105
  • 14 - Dramatis Personae 113
  • 15 - The Neutral Ground 135
  • References 147
  • Index 153
  • About the Author 157
  • Recent Titles in Contributions to the Study of Popular Culture 158
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