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


Page 197

identified with provinciality. The ground they traversed furnished him a sort of literary terrain which excited his imagination precisely as the frontier, on which another set of Americans had faced the new as these Americans faced the old, had excited the imagination of Fenimore Cooper. Highly ironical as it may seem, it is still not highly fanciful to say that The American (1877), begun in Paris in 1875 at a time when James, though delighting in the art and companionship of Turgenev, was yet feeling somewhat excluded from French society, sprang from James’s conception of a romantic American gesture quaintly like that of Daniel Boone renouncing the settlements, the gesture on which Cooper founded the character of Leather-Stocking. It was, as James subsequently explained, “the situation, in another country and an aristocratic society, of some robust but insidiously beguiled, some cruelly wronged, compatriot: the point being in especial that he should suffer at the hands of persons pretending to represent the highest possible civilisation and to be of an order in every way superior to his own.” But when the opportunity for vindication came, the American, as James conceived him, “in the very act of forcing it home would sacrifice it in disgust,” not out of forgiveness but out of so great a contempt for those who had wronged him that he was unwilling to touch them even in a rich revenge. Nor does the plot at large fall, in its romantic qualities, below this instigating gesture. Christopher Newman, intensely self-made and American, is in love with the widowed daughter of the intensely ancient and French house of Bellegarde, which, though the daughter loves him in return, snubs him, snatches



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