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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 112

Cooke seems as completely Virginian as Beverley Tucker before him, though less stately in his tread. All three of these novels have their scenes laid in Williamsburg, the old capital of the Dominion; they reproduce a society strangely made up of luxury, daintiness, elegance, penury, ugliness, brutality. At times the dialogue of Cooke’s impetuous cavaliers and merry girls nearly catches the flavor of the Forest of Arden, but there is generally something stilted in their speech or behavior that spoils the gay illusion. Nevertheless, The Virginia Comedians (1854) may justly be called the best Virginia novel of the old régime, unless possibly Swallow Barn should be excepted, for reality as well as for color and spirit. No other book, of fact or fiction, so well sets forth the vision which in the days immediately before the Civil War Virginians cherished of their greater days on the eve of the Revolution—days the glories of which they thought it possible to bring back and for which if need be they were ready to fight another race of foreign tyrants. During the Civil War Cooke served as captain of cavalary, under Stuart, and had the experiences which he afterwards turned to use in a series of Confederate romances, most rememberable of which is Surry of Eagle’s Nest (1866). But in this and the related tales Hilt to Hilt (1869) and Mohun (1869), as well as in numerous later novels, he continued to practise the old manner which grew steadily more archaic as the rough and ready dime novel, on the one hand, and the realistic novel, on the other, gained ground. Toward the end of his life he participated, without changing his habits, in the revival of the historical romance which began in the eighties, but he still seemed a belated dreamer,



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