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


Page 28

god. Such a quality in the novel might have gone with impossible partiality for the Americans had not Cooper’s wife belonged to a family which had been loyalist during the struggle for independence. As it was, Cooper made his loyalists not necessarily knaves and fools, and so secured a fairness of tone which, aside from the mere question of justice, has a large effect upon the art of the narrative. It is clear the British are enemies worth fighting. Perhaps by chance, Cooper here hit upon a type of plot at which he excelled, a struggle between contending forces, not badly matched, arranged as a pursuit in which the pursued are, as a rule, favored by author and reader. In the management of such a device Cooper’s invention, which was naturally great and now was thoroughly aroused, worked easily, and the flights of Birch from friend and foe alike exhibit a power to carry on plots with sustained sweep which belongs to none but the masters of narration. To rapid movement Cooper added the virtue of a very real setting. He knew Westchester, where his scene was laid, the “Neutral Ground” of the Revolution, as Scott knew his own border; the topography of The Spy is drawn with a firm and accurate hand. In the characters Cooper was not so successful—by strict canons of realism was not successful at all. Cherishing already an aristocratic and traditional conception of women, he accepted for his narrative the romantic ideals of the day, the ideals of Scott and Byron. Writing of violent events in which, of necessity, ladies could play but a small part, he cast his heroines into the straightest mold of helplessness and propriety. With the less sheltered classes, such as were represented by Betty Flanagan



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