’Wizards of the West’? How Americans respond to Sir Walter Scott, the ‘Wizard of the North’

Barbara Buchenau (Goettingen University)

Presented at the 11ᵗʰ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 1997.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art (No. 11), Papers from the 1997 Cooper Seminar (No. 11), The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York. Hugh C. MacDougall, editor. (pp. 14-25).

Copyright © 1999, James Fenimore Cooper Society and the College at Oneonta.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

As a European who is investigating ‘the creation of the American’, I am especially intrigued by the question of how the Americans managed to dissociate themselves from the culture of the former colonial power. Comparing British and American literature will make it possible to understand the process of American literary self-definition as an ongoing discussion of Americans with the British, with people from other nations, and among themselves. Actually, discussion might not be the right term, since we are talking about literature, where we often find a line of writers who incorporate ideas that they find in the works of their contemporaries, but modify these to give them new and divergent meanings. In this fashion, Cooper’s novel The Pioneers (1823) responds to two historical novels by Sir Walter Scott, Waverley (1814) and Rob Roy (1817), both dealing with the civil war-like uprisings in Scotland ending in the victory of the forward-looking party. Cooper’s success and the persistent popularity of Scott’s novels inspired Lydia Maria Child to write Hobomok (1824), a tale about early New England Puritans. Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie (1827), a novel that also deals with early New England life, picks up certain aspects in the novels of Cooper and Scott as well as from Child’s Hobomok. 1 Although the line of response certainly does not stop at this point, a further examination would exceed the scope of this paper.

In my comparative approach to the American historical novelists, I investigate the “creative use” the Americans make of their British peer, rather than studying the influence of Scott in America, pointing out parallels and adaptations. 2 Applying the term ‘response’ — a term that Cushing Strout has used to describe the making of the American tradition — on an international level, 3 I agree with Robert Weisbuch that one can best understand the creation of American literature by taking into account the British-American literary transfer and its productive energies. 4

Before elaborating on my comparative reading of the novels of Cooper, Child and Sedgwick, I would first of all like to indicate how my research on historical novelists in early nineteenth-century North America is connected to a larger research program at Goettingen University — a program that also examines ‘the creation of the American’. Proceeding with a glimpse at the strong connecting links between Great Britain and the United States in terms of literary culture I would like to invite you on a journey leaving from early nineteenth-century Great Britain, crossing the wide ocean to discover the new literary activities flowering in the young nation of the United States. My comparative reading of Cooper and Scott, followed by an outlook on the divergence of Child and Sedgwick, might then give rise to a discussion about the strategies American authors used not only to find an audience, but also to help the process of the creation of an American literature.

What is it that literary scholars in Goettingen want to discover by using a comparative approach? Why did we set up a ‘Center for Cooperative Research on the Internationality of National Literatures’? Nine disciplines got together in order to learn more about the actual internationality of various national literatures mainly of Europe and America. The starting point for our work I would like to explain from the perspective of our Inter-American studies project where specialists of the national literatures of Québec, Anglo-Canada, the USA and the Latin American nations collaborate. We all join in the observation that literary histories, in drawing national boundaries, say too little about the actual international connections that exist because the reading experiences of the authors do not stop at the national borders. 5 Investigating the international reading experiences of those who produce literary works that contribute to the dynamics of a national literature, we want to find out what use is made of other literatures in the process of making one of the national literatures and giving it a distinctive profile. In relating internationality to the dynamics that create national literatures, it is the ultimate goal of our Research Center to develop within the next twelve years models for a history of national literature that is deeply rooted in its internationality.

For literatures in the Americas the historical link to Europe is obvious. They all share the European ancestry of a large part of their writers and readers and the historical background of European settlement. Also, the language each of them had to establish itself in was already identified with the literary culture of the (former) colonial power. Our interest in the international connections of the American literatures focuses on two questions. First, we want to come to a better understanding of the way in which the American literatures emerged as having a character of their own. Second, there is [15] the Inter-American comparison: Placing side by side the processes by which the national literatures of the Americas gained profile, we find indications suggesting that there is a common way for people on the American continent to dissociate themselves from the cultural predominance of Europe. While we want to get a clearer insight into these Inter-American parallels, case-studies in the form of six projects on various fields of the literatures in the Americas will help us determine to what extent actual Inter-American connections play a role in this correspondence.

In my work on the Anglo-American historical novel in the nineteenth century, I collaborate with Evi Findenegg, a specialist on fiction in Latin America, and Thomas Mueller, an expert on the novel in nineteenth-century Québec. Following Doris Sommer’s hypothesis of the foundational effect of fiction, and extending it to both Americas, we find that fiction, especially when it is linked to history, was used in English and French Canada, in the USA and in the emerging Latin-American nations in order to determine the special characteristics of life in these countries, thereby helping to create a national identity. 6 This similarity in the process of self-definition seems at least partly to be due to an American-wide inspiration by such European authors as the historical novelist Sir Walter Scott and the early French Romantics Rousseau and Chateaubriand. Yet there also appears to be an Inter-American discussion since the example of James Fenimore Cooper gave rise to literary responses from novelists throughout the Americas. 7 As I am just beginning to learn more about these connections, I can only hint at them here. But I would propose to look at ‘the creation of the American’ from a perspective that might open the view to its international connections and consequences.

So much for a European approach to America, looking from the present back into the past. Yet, what does America look like through the eyes of a European in the early nineteenth century? And, after the wide ocean is crossed and American culture encountered, how does this picture change? We will never really know, but we can at least try to reconstruct these two perspectives in order to learn more about the tense atmosphere of high expectations in which people like Cooper, Child, and Sedgwick tried to establish themselves as writers. Let us first go back to the Old World: Apart from the interesting commercial and political developments, the American continent is fascinating in terms of its geography and its native population. In popular literary works of the time, America is described as the land of romance, where uncouth or noble savages roam a howling wilderness. 8 Yet when Europeans shift the scene from their romantic flights of fancy to what they consider the reality of American life, they often turn from enthusiastic dreamers to haughty and insolent judges. The remarks on North America all too often suggest disappointment, anger, and disdain. 9 Then, in 1820, this anger-provoking criticism seems to culminate in the following comment, published in the Edinburgh Review. Reviewing the Statistical Annals of the United States of America of 1818, Sydney Smith comes to the devastating conclusion:

During the thirty or forty years of their independence, they have done absolutely nothing for the Sciences, for the Arts, for Literature, or even for the statesman-like studies of Politics or Political Economy. 10

This is a very pointed, yet representative, example of the bad reputation American culture had in Europe in the time when Cooper started to write. It is therefore worth crossing the wide ocean to take a closer look at those people Sydney Smith must have offended badly. 11 Arriving, let us say, in a metropolis like Boston in 1820, we soon notice that the book shops are full of European books and we see people with a great appetite for literature spending their evenings reading mostly British novels. As David Kaser indicates, these books are either imported, or — more likely — pirated by the American printing presses and sold at a very low price. 12 Perusing these novels, Americans readers and also future writers are captivated by adventures in medieval castles and cloisters, by the dark recesses of the remotest European history, intricate stories involving the distinguished manners of aristocratic society. 13 Yet, besides this predominance of British fiction on the book market, we also notice something else: There are American literary magazines in which we can read uneasy feelings about “the lack of outstanding literary endeavor in the United States”. 14 Many people, who eagerly read British and American literary magazines such as the North American Review and the Edinburgh Review, are not only troubled by Walter Channing’s 1815 charge of the “literary delinquency of America”, 15 but they are also well versed in the harsh British criticism of American literary works. 16 An audience thus prepared to feel self-conscious about the aspirations to develop a national literature is now reading the challenging sneer of Sydney Smith that culminates in the rhetorical question: “In the four corners of the globe, who reads an American book?” 17 Arrogant and damaging as the criticism is, I am none the less convinced that Benjamin Lease is right in reading it as a productive, rather than destructive, provocation of the Americans. 18 Also, the sneer comes at a time when the tide has turned towards national pride. The War of 1812 has taught Americans self-respect, because they managed to survive a military conflict with a naval super-power. With new self-confidence, the Americans now angrily respond to Sydney Smith, thereby setting free productive energies that result in the first flowering of American fiction in the 1820s. 19

[16] Yet, there is one European factor in this increase in literary productivity. The enormous international popularity of Sir Walter Scott, affectionately called ‘the Wizard of the North’, triggers the production of historical fiction in Europe as much as in America. 21 There are two reasons to this phenomenon. First, Scott’s numerous historical novels give fiction a serious standing as being both instructive and moral. 21 Second, Scott proves that historical fiction, by dealing with one’s own recent history, promotes the search for a national identity. Scott’s popularity, therefore, is closely connected to the spreading sense of nationalism in the nineteenth century. 22 As the historian Christopher Harvie notices, Scott is “the precursor of those reconstructors of historic identity who [propel] European nationalism”. 23 As might be expected, American literary critics such as W.H. Gardiner gladly pick up Scott’s achievements to encourage American writers to follow his example. 24 But the ‘Wizard of the North’ also attracts writers for less programmatic reasons. Witnessing that Scott’s literary success is a financial one as well, they summon their energies with an eye to the book market. And if American novelists indeed follow Gardiner’s call in the North American Review to become ‘wizards of the West’, 25 their endeavor is probably not only guided by literary ambitions, but also supported by the hope for financial reward.

In this atmosphere of productive bustle, many literary minded people seize pencil and paper, either to venture into the field of fiction themselves, or to promote the creation of literary works by proposing adequate genres, themes and motives for American fiction. 26 For instance, the enthusiastic response to Cooper’s The Spy (1821) helps Gardiner to be more precise about his vision of an American literature, a vision that in its course was shared by Cooper, Child and Sedgwick in their literary endeavors. 27 In his review of The Spy, Gardiner pleads the case of North America as an adequate setting for imaginative fiction. Addressing, it seems, a British cultural tribunal, Gardiner responds to their charge “that our country and its inhabitants are equally and utterly destitute of all sorts of romantic associations.” He acknowledges without a blush what America lacks when regarded from a European perspective: there are no medieval monuments, and there is no ancient and shrouded history, no aristocratic, highly stratified society to explore in fiction. But he replaces these ‘deficits’ by American romantic associations derived from the vast changes that have taken place in only two short centuries of American history. Criticizing gothic novels as “mere creations of the brain,” and novels of manners as having the purpose of formally dividing society “into lords, gentlemen, and villains,” Gardiner prefers “the more commodious structure [of] the modern historical romance” for the creation of an American fiction. He recommends to “future wizard[s] of the West” not only social types that prove the diversity of a society embracing individual freedom and motives such as the ‘ancient Puritan’, “the white savage [ ... ] and [ ... ] the red native of the wilderness” to deal with in their fiction. Gardiner also asks them to explore “three great epochs in American history, which are peculiarly well fitted for historical romance; — the times just succeeding the first settlement — the æra [sic] of the Indian wars, which lie scattered along a considerable period — and the revolution”. 28

If this was the vision of American fiction in the 1820s, it does indeed clearly state a taste for the historical and the realistic — not slighting the romantic — a taste for American materials and American progress. It does not, however, demand a strict departure from British literary traditions. Gardiner’s recommendations for the writing of American fiction are suited for an audience nurtured on British literature and British literary criticism. Cooper, Child and Sedgwick, listening to visions such as Gardiner’s, also have this audience in mind when venturing into fiction. They very well know that the American audience for fiction has to a certain extent been created by Scott’s historical romances in which Scott not only made novels acceptable and popular, but also set an example of promoting a non-English, that is a Scottish and a British, national identity while writing in English. 29

Although Scott’s achievement was a start, it did not help too much in dealing with the problem that so far there was no proper audience for an American author. As James D. Wallace claims, creating a truly American audience is clearly the achievement of Cooper, who succeeds “in transforming both his art and his audience from awkward imitation of the English into something triumphantly American”. 31 With The Pioneers, Cooper not only reaches a wide public in America but also manages to refute Sydney Smith’s rhetorical question by conquering the European market, where his novel is soon translated into French, German, Italian, and Spanish. 31 In Germany, for instance, the regularly repeated translation of his Leatherstocking Tales indicates a popularity unmatched by any American before him. 32 For his first historical romance The Spy Cooper also earns the name of ‘Scott of America’, a title he openly disapproves of, because it denies him a literary standing of his own. 33 In The Pioneers he then goes on to distinguish further his work from Scott’s by substituting Scott’s social context for frontier materials and the American longing for freedom and individualism. Robert Weisbuch criticizes Cooper for not utilizing “influence with transformative control”, meaning that Cooper does not manage to redefine the mode of writing historical romances for his own purposes. 34 From Weisbuch’s perspective it might be true that Cooper’s merits grow pale beside the achievements of later American authors such as Hawthorne and Melville. But seeing him in his own time also makes us recognize that his response to Scott offers departures that reach farther than the new material he deals with.

[17] Comparisons between Cooper and Scott originated almost the moment The Spy was published. Ursula Brumm, George Dekker, Alan Leander McGregor and others have taught us to understand the connection as a very fruitful one. 35 I would like to take their efforts a little further by referring to the research of Armin Paul Frank, my advisor who has taken a close look at the Cooper-Scott connection, showing that it is Scott’s novels Waverley (1814) and Rob Roy (1817) that provoked Cooper’s opposition in historical, aesthetic, and moral terms. 36 I have chosen two fields of comparison — the concept of history and the romance context — to exemplify Cooper’s rewriting of Scott. With a more general remark on Cooper’s use of history, I will then proceed to the women writers to indicate that their way of writing American history, while drawing on both Scott’s and Cooper’s achievements, opens the view to the many contradicting meanings of history.

Let me start with ‘stadialism’, the concept of history that both Cooper and Scott use. George Dekker points out that Cooper shares with Scott a concept of historical change that has its roots in eighteenth-century Scotland and France, but is still vastly popular in North America in the early nineteenth century. 37 The stadialist theory of progress views historical change as a movement towards civilization that takes the form of consecutive stages called savage, barbarian, pastoral, and civilized. These stages are determined by the respective mode of subsistence such as hunting, herding, farming, and living by commerce and industry.

Scott uses stadialism to send his hero from mundane London onto something like a time journey. The far North with its wild retreats of the Scottish Highlanders, whom Scott associates with the Native Americans, appears as the obscure past confronted with modern times. 38 When Scott arranges the stages of historical change on a topographical map from the South to the very North of the British Isles, this also means that the sense of progress as well as of romance can only be experienced by a civilized person touring the North. Scott depicts the Scottish Highlands as a world utterly removed from his own urban and civilized life. To heighten the contrast between North and South, Scott also interprets the historical conflict between the Jacobites and the Hanoverians as being promoted by the clash of the civilized and the savage state that occurs when the ‘savage’ North invades the ‘civilized’ South.

In The Pioneers, Cooper proves that geographical distance is not necessary to discover romance, progress, or historical conflict. All three can be found in Templeton, along with the representatives of the different stadialist stages. Other American thinkers, including Jefferson and Crèvecoeur, assumed that in North America stadialism reaches from East to West, where the so-called ‘savage’ mode of life in the West is continually being replaced by a more civilized stage. 39 Cooper combines the latter with Gardiner’s account of the romantic qualities of the vast changes in American scenery, and he follows Gardiner’s recommendation in associating the striving town of Templeton with its frontier past. 41 Cooper gives a rather archaeological form to stadialism by assuming that a closer look at Templeton will uncover the competitive co-existence of the stadialist stages in the general movement from savagery to civilization; an aspect of historical change that Scott does not explore for Scotland.

Cooper also uses stadialism to design a clash of cultures that is more closely interwoven with the thematic concern of his novel than is the cultural clash of the Highlanders and the English in either Rob Roy or Waverley. In The Pioneers, stadialism affects the major conflict of the various property claims in Templeton and its surroundings, as they are brought forward by representatives of the different stages. 41 The most probable claimant is Chingachgook, a ‘savage’ by his mode of subsistence as well as by his association with what was then seen as a ‘primitive people’. But he has relinquished his right to the land to a white heir, Oliver Edwards alias Effingham. Oliver Edwards can doubly strengthen his claim to the land by being a grandson of an English officer adopted by the Mohicans and a son of the silent, Loyalist partner in Judge Temple’s business. The legal owner of the land, Judge Temple, a representative of the pastoral stage, stands for the claim of the white settlers which is based on the jurisdiction of the newly established nation. The only claimant that is being left out in the final happy ending of the former property rivalry is Natty Bumppo. He is a representative of a stage Armin Paul Frank calls ‘secondary savagery’, meaning the mode of subsistence of white squatters who live by the fruits of nature without disturbing its balance. His life guided by natural law is untenable in a society where the utilisation of nature has to be artificially restricted by prudent jurisdiction in order to preserve the natural resources.

Yet, not only the fictional conflict in The Pioneers, but also the tragic part of the ending is affected by Cooper’s use of stadialism. The author here nicely contrasts Natty with Rob Roy, Scott’s social outcast who is also excluded from the happy ending. But Leatherstocking’s tragic destiny is more subtle and also more meaningful to society than Rob Roy’s. The latter has once belonged to the gentry and has only become the leader of the so-called savage Highlanders after financial ruin and the cruel punishment of society for this disgrace has made him an outcast of society, forcing him to associate with people who are culturally clearly his inferiors. Rob Roy participates in their armed conflict with no other perspective than to take revenge for the wrongs done him and his family. Separated from civilization, his destiny is to die in oblivion after the cause of the Jacobitical Highlanders is lost. Like Rob Roy, Natty Bumppo, too, is the spokesman for [18] a people at the lowest stage of historical progress. But unlike Rob Roy, Natty willingly associates with the Native Americans and the wilderness. He prefers them over the whites for their considerate use of the natural resources. Leaving civilization to go West, he does not retreat into the savage past of Rob Roy but rather searches for his personal past as a lonely hunter. Still, even while finding the untouched nature he was looking for, his destiny is truly tragic as he turns out to be the unwilling harbinger of civilization.

Another field in which Cooper transforms elements he finds in Scott’s work is the romance context. 42 Here, I will point out three topics in which Cooper differs significantly from Scott: supernatural events, adventures and the happy ending. Scott still likes to play on the supernatural, although he tries to explain it as the superstitions of ancient times. Cooper, probably following the advice given by Gardiner not to aim at these “mere creations of the brain”, 43 carefully avoids the supernatural even when he could exploit it. The fire ball, for instance, magically floating across the lake in the night of the fishing, turns out to be a simple torch carried by Natty and Chingachgook on the boat. 44

As to the romance as an adventure-story, Cooper picks up a device Scott used in order to bring about the crisis. In Rob Roy the final clash between barbaric and civilized state comes about when the hero’s father takes his Scottish nephew — a perfect literary villain in disguise — into his business. In The Pioneers, Judge Temple makes reconciliation possible by a similar move. The rebellious young man, who thinks the worst of his new employer, learns that Temple is not the villain he takes him to be. Cooper seems to smile at Scott while he shows that rebels and villains only appear as such when a deceiving perspective and insufficient information allow such misconceptions. Also, Cooper has his hero recover his property by proving worthy of it, while the recovery in Rob Roy seems like a fairy tale and is little connected to the previous adventures in the Highlands.

In the happy ending of The Pioneers, Cooper clearly shows that he has learned Scott’s lesson well. In particular, a wedding that reconciles the opponents of the historical conflict in a way to leave out those who are too reactionary for historical progress makes for a happy ending of Waverley and Ivanhoe (1818). In Waverley, the marriage unites Whigs and Tories, while the rebellious Highlanders have no place in the future. In Ivanhoe, Saxons and moderate Normans are reconciled at the expense of Jews and decadent Normans. Although Scott constructs the marriage as historically and politically meaningful, he does not integrate it convincingly into his story. While the hero ends up marrying a soft, passive, and pliable blond woman whom he loves like a sister, he feels passionately drawn to an active, strong-minded, and impressive, dark-haired woman. For ethnic, religious, or political reasons, he finally prefers the sister-type, yet this often comes as a surprise to most readers.

Not so with Cooper. In The Pioneers, the love-story is tightly woven into the conflict of property rights. The dark-haired, active, and courageous Elisabeth, with the offensive sexual attraction and the self-reliance of Scott’s dark heroines carefully removed, clearly attracts Edwards. The hero, while acting mysteriously, never really responds to the loving eyes of blue-eyed, submissive Louisa Grant. The final wedding reconciles Loyalists and Patriots just as much as it unites two ‘civilized’ and one ‘savage’ claim to the land. While the participants in the happy ending are to be deeply involved in the future of Templeton, Natty is set free to roam the lonesome West, tragically opening the way to the westward movement of civilization.

After this excursion into a face-to-face comparison of The Pioneers with the novels with which it competes, let me close the case of Cooper versus Scott with a more general remark on Cooper’s use of history. This will also allow me to extend the line of thought towards the women writers’ responses. In The Pioneers, history is closely connected to Cooper’s present. While Scott tends to go back in time at least two generations, Cooper deals with the generation of his fathers and sets his novel in a fictional, though autobiographically meaningful, surrounding. 45 His Templeton can well be read as a representative of North American frontier settlements, and it might even be read as a model for them, standing, as it does, for the progressive cultivation of the wilderness, but also for the cultivation of a social system based on democracy, Cooper reconstructs the frontier past of rural New York on a fictional level without elaborating as much as Scott on the historical authenticity of his story. Unlike Waverley, the historical fiction in The Pioneers is clearly linked to the narrative present. In dealing with an expanding society, Cooper probes into conflicts that are still alive and unresolved in the United States of his times, thereby establishing a firm link between past and present.

Considering that The Pioneers establishes its own taste in terms of both the romance context and the use of stadialism and history, I wonder about its meaning in its own time. Is it likely that Cooper, though on a smaller scale than Scott, might have triggered the achievements of other writers? If Scott proves that the historical novel is not only something better than mere entertainment, 46 but can also enhance the sense of a cultural identity, does Cooper help people to respect American history, short and unromantic as it might appear?

[19] To give an idea of the impact that Cooper had on American writers of his time, let me focus my attention a little further down the line of writers, participating in the ongoing transatlantic, literary discussion. Showing first what Hobomok and Hope Leslie, the novels by Maria Child and Catharine Sedgwick have in common, I will then present Child’s Hobomok as an experimental divergence from Cooper and Scott mainly by placing greater emphasis on the heroine, thereby combining conventions belonging to the historical romance with those of the sentimental novel. 47 While Hobomok to some extent fails to establish a convincing difference to either Scott’s or Cooper’s novels because of its fairy-tale ending, a concluding look at Hope Leslie shows that Catharine Sedgwick successfully picks up what Child proposes in Hobomok, thereby opening the way to a more pluralistic reading of history. 48

Child and Sedgwick extend the respect for American history claimed by Cooper back to the earliest time of the European settlement of New England. While they are avoiding Cooper’s home turf, as of 1823, they seem to tell him that American novelists should pick up Gardiner’s invitation to have more confidence in the American past, stating that it is worth being studied for its own sake. Child and Sedgwick both stress historical distance while aiming at accuracy and authenticity by closely knitting their fictions into the historical fabric. They search history for the values and the achievements of their forefathers, thereby defining the roots of American society as they see them. In reading the remotest American past as a time that gave birth to values that have become essential to American society, Child and Sedgwick strike a balance between Cooper’s and Scott’s approaches to history.

One striking aspect of these novels that deal with the early Puritans in New England is the conscious defense of the romantic character of American history. While Cooper openly refuses to take sides in the literary criticism of his time and presupposes the suitability of his subject, 49 Child and Sedgwick both pick up the current debate about the potential of an American literature. Obviously they considered themselves participants in the creation of an American literary identity, as they take up the argument that the American past, though short and not in the least obscure, can still render romantic associations by its impressive contrast to the present. Both authors seem to follow Gardiner’s recommendation in linking American scenery with the romantic, that is mysterious, exotic, and strange memories of the ‘howling wilderness’, a wilderness that has long since become a busy, flourishing community. 51

In Hobomok, the estrangement from the past is enhanced by the fact that Child explains the movement of history in terms of the Puritan typology. 51 While Cooper and Scott draw on stadialism to explain the movement of history, Child prefers to see historical change in the light of religion as a movement towards religious tolerance. Thus, the advent of the Puritans and other religious people from England appears as the moment when the mythic, pre-historic timelessness of the American wilderness turns into the glorious history of the fulfillment of God’s design on earth. 52 Yet Child points out that the Puritans of young Salem are far from being able to make their expectations meet reality. She shows how their highest ambitions struggle with their actual harshness and intolerance — a struggle they can only lose in order to open the way for a more tolerant and liberal Christianity. In delineating the inner conflict of the Puritans, Child investigates their psychology and at the same time questions the same Puritan histories to which she refers. 53

The historical conflict around which Child weaves her story of smitten love combines religious contentions with the clash of European and Native American culture. While Cooper links the two cultures by introducing Natty, Child has two characters meet at this point of intersection. Instead of a friendship between members of the different cultures, she lets her white heroine, sick and tired of the Puritan society, marry a Native American. She further develops Cooper’s integration of the love interest into the main thematic concern of the novel by using illicit love to bring about the climax of the novel. This heightened love interest also brings with it a change in the constellation of the characters. Combining major traits of the sentimental with those of the historical novel, Child chooses a young woman as her protagonist. 54 While she picks up the sentimental concerns of filial obedience and feminine propriety in having her heroine quarrel with her Puritan father over her secret love, Child also gives her protagonist the task of a mediator in the historical conflict that is usually taken on by the hero in Scott’s novels. For one thing, Mary mediates between aristocratic England and dissenting New England by moving from the royal court with all its luxurious splendor to the devastating harshness of a settler’s life in the colonies. But she is also an — ineffectual — mediator between the conflicting religious beliefs as she adheres to the faith of her Episcopalian lover, thereby offending the Puritans. While these mediations make her an outsider in the infant society, her association with a Native American makes both of them lose their respective social ties. Although Child obviously tries to go beyond Cooper in connecting the Native American and the Anglo-Saxon culture, she cautiously backs out of her experiment by the fairy-tale recovery of Mary’s Episcopalian lover who has supposedly died in shipwreck on his way to religious exile. Now it is the Native American that has to go West like Natty. Yet, like Rob Roy, his move is of no avail for the future. It is a turn towards utter isolation that questions all efforts in Hobomok towards a better understanding between the two conflicting cultures. 55

[20] While Child shrinks away from any closer involvement with the clash of two cultures in order to concentrate on her heroine’s search for a humane and truly Christian society, Sedgwick explores the actual conflict between the Pequots and the Puritan settlers. Sedgwick uses Child’s approach of focusing on the heroine, but she broadens it by adding a Pequot counterpart to the white woman in conflict with Puritan society. Here, Sedgwick develops a device Cooper uses to criticize the settlers. In The Pioneers, only Natty Bumppo, the white outsider of society, charges the settlers with their faults, while his friend Chingachgook remains silent. The white heroine in Hope Leslie also speaks up for her Native American friend, but she is clearly not a representative of the Native Americans’ claims to justice. Sedgwick stresses the Native American perspective by allowing the dark heroine to speak for herself and for her people. Apart from using an outsider to point at society’s incurable faults, Sedgwick also takes up Cooper’s idea of the archaeological character of stadialism in America. She clearly refutes Child’s view of a prehistoric world that was settled by Europeans. Instead of dwelling on Puritan typology, she sticks to historical facts by noting that the first regions to be settled by whites were the meadows cleared by Native Americans for agricultural use, 56 and she acknowledges, like Cooper, the stadialist progress of civilization on the land. While neither of them really questions the process by which the Native Americans are disowned, Sedgwick uses her Pequot heroine as a mouthpiece to respond to Scott’s use of the stadialist model. Whereas Scott understands the historical conflict as a struggle between a reactionary, culturally inferior party and a progressive, culturally superior one, where the former loses partly because it is less ‘civilized’, Sedgwick, in hinting at the high culture of her Native American heroine, argues that the Pequots, while belonging to the savage stage, are culturally accomplished in that their social system and their set of values are well developed. Yet, Sedgwick avoids using stadialism to justify the extinction of the Native Americans. Their destruction is seen as a consequence of the unscrupulousness and the greater power of the white settlers, not as a matter of historical progress.

In order to explain — in a nutshell — the process of differentiation going on in Hobomok and Hope Leslie, I would like to condense their response to Scott and Cooper to two fields. The first field I would like to call ‘new composition’: here we have the women writers sidestepping the conventions of the historical novel by using the heroine of the sentimental tradition as their protagonist. Child’s heroine, while spectacularly provoking the community she lives in, is still cast in the role of the sentimental sufferer. Sedgwick goes a little further. She casts her heroines as rebels, yet unlike the rebellious dark lady in Waverley, they are no cold-hearted, political schemers. In their defense of tolerance, individual freedom, and the rights of minorities they harshly censure the defects of American society, and at the same time proclaim its potential. 57 As their view of history is associated with views that are culturally not representative, be it religious, ethnic, or simply gender, the compositional change to a greater stress on the heroine helps to show that history indeed has more than one face. The second field of differentiation I would like to call ‘mediation’. I have already talked about it, saying that Child and Sedgwick mediate between Cooper’s and Scott’s approach to history in estranging the American past and giving it a standing of its own.

These two fields of response are inconspicuous, yet important incidents of the discussion of American authors with the British and among themselves. I indicated at the beginning that the line of writers responding to one another does not stop with Catharine Sedgwick. Indeed, Sedgwick’s approach to New England history is taken up by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter (1850). Hawthorne knew and appreciated Sedgwick’s literary work, 58 and he was probably also familiar with The Pioneers. In The Scarlet Letter he responds to the achievements of his predecessors in connecting American history to some of the most pressing questions of humankind. While he takes respect for the American past for granted, he links it to the present and maybe even to the future of all human societies by having Hester, the heroine at the center of the thematic concern, hope for a time when “a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness”. 59 Looking at a sequence of authors discussing American history we can thus recognize a meaningful change from Cooper through to Hawthorne. While Cooper explores the latest past with an eye to issues his own society is involved in, the women writers open the way to a journey into the remotest past, which is to some extent also an excursion into the human psyche. Hawthorne picks up both these trends in The Scarlet Letter, thereby probing into the psychological roots of American society, but also investigating human conflicts that are clearly timeless.

[21] What new answers do we get out of this comparative analysis? First of all, the emergence of a national American literature is rooted in and helped along by the culture the early colonists brought to the New World. The change in American literature occurring in the 1820s is foremost a change towards using essentially American experiences in American fiction, a fiction that emerges by a process of divergence from the British, but also from other European literatures. Historical, moral, and stylistic differences, however, occur as distinct features of each individual author. Each vision of America presented in the novels contributes to ‘the creation of the American’, a construction I like to read with Sarah Corse 61 as a conscious effort of societal, definition as an ongoing discussion between Americans and the British and among Americans themselves, it will be imperative to find out more about its connections to and repercussions in Europe and the Americas.


1 It comes as no surprise that Scott’s historical novels were well known to the American authors in question, since he was highly popular in the United States at the time. George Dekker speaks of an “international tradition” that was started by Scott’s achievement and he clearly assumes that Cooper, Sedgwick, and Child all wrote with an eye on Scott (cf. The American Historical Romance (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990 (paperback), 34). Child uses the preface of her novel to pretend her inferiority to either Scott or Cooper (compare Carolyn Karcher, ed., Lydia Maria Francis Child: Hobomok and Other Writings on Indians (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995), 3). The Child-Sedgwick connection becomes obvious when reading the two novels, which share, for instance, the interest in the Puritans, the strategy to choose a woman as the protagonist struggling with Puritan society, and the integration of a Native American character into the main plot. Sedgwick was highly interested in literature. As one of the key figures of the New England literary circles she had certainly read the novels by Scott, Cooper, and Child (Cf. Edward Halsey Foster, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Twayne’s United States Authors Series (New York: Twayne, 1974)).

2 Cf. Linden Peach, British Influence on the Birth of the American Literature (London: Macmillan Press, 1982), 28.

3 Cf. Cushing Strout, Making American Tradition. Visions and Revisions from Ben Franklin to Alice Walker (New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 5.

4 Robert Weisbuch, Atlantic Double-Cross; American Literature and British Influence in the Age of Emerson (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986).

5 In the case of US-American literary histories it has to be noted that they all apply the national boundaries of the United States to the literature written in colonial times; additionally, there is a common agreement that the literary history of the American nation starts at a mythical moment in history, either, as Elliott has it, when Native Americans produced their first paintings, or, as Spiller has it, when the first European settlers set their feet on American soil (cf. Emery Elliott, Gen. Ed., Columbia Literary History of the United States (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988); Robert Spiller, et al., Literary History of the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1974).

6 Cf. Doris Sommer, Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1991), Ursula Brumm, Geschichte und Wildnis in der amerikanischen Literatur (Berlin: Schmidt, 1980) and Eva-Marie Kroeller, “Walter Scott in America, English Canada, and Québec: A Comparison,” Canadian Revue of Comparative Literature 7:1 (1980), 32-46.

7 In English Canada John Richardson used Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans as a foil to deviate from in his own historical romance Wacousta; or, The Prophecy (1832). In Argentina, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento picked up Cooper’s tales about the confrontation of Native Americans and white settlers in Facundo: Civilización y barbarie (1845). On Latin American authors responding to Cooper see Doris Sommer, “Plagiarized Authenticity: Sarmiento’s Cooper and Others” in Do the Americas have a Common Literature?, ed. Gustavo Pérez Firmat (Durham: Duke University Press, 1990), 130-55.

8 F.R. Vicomte de Chateaubriand’s Atala (1801) and Thomas Campbell’s Gertrude of Wyoming (1809) are just two examples of this exploitation of the American continent for romantic purposes.

9 On “the atmosphere of intense expectation and commensurate disappointment” in Europe concerning the development of art and literature in a democracy, see James D. Wallace, Early Cooper and His Audience (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 6. On the high amount of aggressive criticism of the USA in British magazines, and the angry responses by Americans see Benjamin Lease, Anglo-American Encounters: England and the Rise of American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 4.

10 [Sydney Smith], review on Statistical Annals of the United States of America by Adam Seybert, Edinburgh Review 33 (1820), 69-80, here 79.

11 The disdain of Europeans about culture in America is not restricted to the case of Great Britain versus the USA. Gerhart Teuscher has studied German magazines of the eighteenth century for their reports on Canada, finding an arrogance comparable to Smith’s. Commentators even feel free to compare Canadian culture to the conditions in Germany a millennium earlier (cf. “’Armut, rohe Kunst, und Mangel der Cultur’? Das deutsche Kanadabild in historisch-politischen Zeitschriften des späten 18. Jahrhunderts,” Deutschkanadische Studien (Symposium: Kontakte-Konflikte-Konzepte) 3 (1980), 76-91, esp. 83).

12 Cf. David Kaser, “Waverley in America.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 51 (II Q 57), 163-7.

13 For the predominance of British literary works on the American book market see James D. Hart, The Popular Book: A History of America’s Literary Taste (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950). Future writers join in the enthusiasm for reading British literature, as the example of Cooper’s European reading experience shows. This is faithfully recorded by Susan Fenimore Cooper, Pages and Pictures from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper (New York: Townsend, 1861), esp. 15-17. Just to hint at the broader perspective of this transatlantic reading culture in America: A glance at Latin America shows, that the case is a little different there. The lack of printing presses and the obscurantist policy of the Spanish government keeps the spread of books in the Spanish colonies at a minimum. After political independence is reached in the different colonies, the reception focuses on French literature (cf. Marguerite C. Suárez-Murias, La Novela Romántica en Hispanoamérica. Hispanic Institute in the United States (New York, 1963), 64; Alfred Coester, The Literary History of Spanish America (New York: Macmillan, 1950), 39). For the importance of the French literature for the development of a literature of Québec see René Dionne, “De la Littérature Française à la Littérature Québécoise,” Le Québécois et sa Littérature (Québec: Éditions Naaman, 1984), 31-46. For English Canadian authors the literary traditions of the (former) mother-country compete in importance with numerous US-American books on the literary market in the 19ᵗʰ century (cf. Sara Jeannette Duncan, “American Influence on Canadian Thought” (1887), repr. in Carl Ballstadt, ed., The Search for English-Canadian Literature. An Anthology of Critical Articles from the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975), 36-41).

14 Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741-1930 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938-1968), Vol. 1 (1938), 187.

15 [Walter Channing], “On the Literary Delinquency of America,” North American Review 2 (1815), 33.

16 British criticism of the young nation across the Atlantic almost immediately reached American ears. This becomes clear when reading the leading magazines of the time. To give an example of this connection: In 1821 the North American Review comments on a British essay “on the complaint in America against the British Press” published only five months earlier in the New London Monthly Magazine. The author of the review not only proves very good knowledge of the British criticism of America, he also does not think it necessary to explain the criticism he is referring to. For him, dropping names such as “Mr. Smith” suffices to join his readers to the argument (cf. NAR 32 (1821): 20-48, esp. 25).

17 Edinburgh Review 33 (1820): 79.

18 Cf. Benjamin Lease, Anglo-American Encounters. See also Evert A. Duyckinck, ed., Wit and Wisdom of Rev. Sydney Smith (New York: Armstrong & Sons, 1882), 188.

19 For the spread of nationalist pride after the War of 1812 see Harrison G. Orians, “The Romance Ferment after Waverley,” American Literature 3 (1932), 408-31, here 409. On the first blooming of American literature in the 1820s see John Tebbel, A History of Book Publishing in the United States (New York: R.R. Bowker, 1975), Vol. 1, 21; William Charvat, The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800-1870, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1968), 77.

20 Sir Walter Scott wrote a large number of historical novels after his enormous success with Waverley (1814). They found an extraordinarily large audience on both sides of the Atlantic “summoning to the ranks of novel-readers many persons who had formerly condemned the novel as trash. [ ... ] This master necromancer set a whole generation of Englishmen and Americans dreaming and prating about the chivalries of a bygone age” (Harrison G. Orians, 409). On the importance of Scott in America see also Andrew Hook, Scotland and America: A Study of Cultural Relations: 1750-1835 (Glasgow: Blackie, 1975). Hook stresses the similarities in the cultural situation of Scotland and the USA, and points to the strength of Scottish literary models in America. See also Susan Manning, The Puritan-Provincial Vision: Scottish and American Literature in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

21 Cf. Eva-Marie Kroeller, “Walter Scott in America, English Canada, and Québec: A Comparison,” Canadian Revue of Comparative Literature 7:1 (1980), 32-46, here 32.

22 Cf. Winnifred Bogaards, “Sir Walter Scott’s Influence on Nineteenth Century Canadian Historians and Historical Novelists,” in Scott and His Influence, ed. J.H. Alexander and David Hewitt (Aberdeen: Association for Scottish Literature Studies, 1983), 443-54, here 443-47.

23 Christopher Harvie, Scotland and Nationalism, Scottish Society and Politics: 1707-1994 (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), 90.

24 Cf. W.H. Gardiner’s review of Cooper’s The Spy, North American Review 15 (July 1822), 258.

25 Cf. W.H. Gardiner in the North American Review, 258.

26 The programmatic intentions of American literary critics are easily found in their reviews of the American literary productions. Palfrey’s review of “Yamoyden”, a metrical tale by Robert Sands and James Eastburn, in the North American Review 7 (1821), 466-88 recommends American scenes and character types to future American writers. His proposals are explicitly taken up by Lydia Maria Child in Hobomok (Compare Carolyn Karcher, ed., Hobomok, 3). Catharine Sedgwick, responding in Hope Leslie to Child’s novel, is likely to have known the review as well.

27 On the popularity of The Spy see Alan Taylor, William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic (New York: Knopf, 1995), 408-9.

28 North American Review 15 (1822), 250, 253, 251, 254, 258, 252, and 255.

29 Cf. Robert Crawford, Devolving English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 10 and 130.

30 James D. Wallace, Early Cooper and His Audience (New York, Oxford University Press, 1986), vii.

31 Cf. A Descriptive Bibliography of the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. Robert E. Spiller and Philip C. Blackburn (New York: Bowker Company, 1934), 27-31.

32 Cf. Richard Mummendey, Die schöne Literatur der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika in deutschen Übersetzungen. Eine Bibliographie (Bonn: Bouvier, 1961). To name only one example of his reception in Germany: there are three translations of Cooper’s complete works into German up to the 1850s. All of them went through four editions.

33 On Cooper’s dislike of being called ‘the American Scott’ see The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1960-68), Vol. 2, 84. W.H. Gardiner questions the appropriateness of the term ‘Scott of America’ in his review of The Spy in the North American Review (NAR 15 (July 1822), 275.

34 Robert Weisbuch, Atlantic Double-Cross, 7-8.

35 Ursula Brumm, Geschichte und Wildnis in der amerikanischen Literatur (Berlin: Schmidt, 1980), George Dekker, The American Historical Romance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), and Alan Leander McGregor, The Historical Function of Historical Fiction: Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper. Diss. Ann Arbor: UMI, Oct. 1985.

36 Cf. Armin Paul Frank, “Writing Literary Independence: The Case of Cooper — the ‘American Scott’ and the un-Scottish American,” to be published in the January 1998 edition of Comparative Literature Studies.

37 Cf. George Dekker, The American Historical Romance, 73-98.

38 Scott drew the parallel between the Highlanders and the Native Americans explicitly in an article on the Culloden Papers in 1816 (cf. John Sutherland’s Introduction to Rob Roy (London: Everyman, 1995), xxvi). The vocabulary used for the description of the Highlanders will remind the reader trained in early American literature again and again of American descriptions of the American Indians. While Scott probably learned much from the travel narratives and histories of his time (e.g. William Robertson’s History of America), American authors seem to have used his phraseology in their own description of people whom they erroneously considered as ‘savages’.

39 Cf. a novel by Samuel Woodworth that has passed into almost complete oblivion: The Champions of Freedom (1816) and Thomas Jefferson’s much quoted letter to William Ludlow (1824) The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Andrew A. Lipscomb (Washington, D.C.: Thos. Jefferson Memorial Assn., 1904), xvi, 74-5, quoted in Dekker, 82. See also J. Hector St. John Crèvecoeur’s “On the Susquehanna” published in Sketches of Eighteenth Century America, ed. Henri L. Bourdin, Ralph H. Garbriel, and Stanley T. Williams (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1925).

40 Cf. The Pioneers, Chapter 1 and North American Review 15 (1822), 254.

41 For the conflicting claims to the land and their meaning for the creation of a national identity see Susan Scheckel, “’In the Land of his Fathers’: Cooper, Land Rights, and the Legitimation of American National Identity” in James Fenimore Cooper: New Historical and Literary Contexts, ed. W.M. Verhoeven (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993), 125-50.

42 As George Dekker points out, the romance tradition which links Scott and Cooper, deeply affects the way Cooper wrote novels and also determined the way they were read (cf. “James Fenimore Cooper and the Romance Tradition” in James Fenimore Cooper: New Historical and Literary Contexts, ed. W.M. Verhoeven (Amsterdam Rodopi, 1993), 19-29).

43 North American Review 15 (1822), 253.

44 Cf. The Pioneers, Chapter 24.

45 Alan Taylor’s William Cooper’s Town is a brilliant eye-opener to the autobiographical and therefore realistic meaning of The Pioneers. It might be interesting to note that Rob Roy had its autobiographical qualities as well. It is supposed to be a self-portrait, dealing with Scott’s youth (cf. John Sutherland’s introduction to Rob Roy, xxiii).

46 Cf. Harrison G. Orians, 409.

47 Susanne Opfermann has made the case for Hope Leslie that blending the conventions of the sentimental and the historical novel allowed Sedgwick to challenge the literary traditions of both genres (see Diskurs, Geschlecht und Literatur: Amerikanische Autorinnen des 19. Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1996), 192.

48 To give a comparative insight into the impact the respective novels might have had: The Bibliography of American Imprints to 1901 lists 33 editions of The Pioneers up to 1850, of Hobomok, there is only one edition, of Hope Leslie, there are five up to 1872 (Author Index (New York et. al.: K.G. Saur, 1993), Vol. 45 and 54). While Child’s novel was not translated in German or French, Hope Leslie, was soon translated in both languages.

49 Cf. Cooper’s 1823 preface to The Pioneers and Chapter 1.

50 For Gardiner’s recommendation see North American Review 15 (1822), 250 ff.

51 I agree with Stephen Carl Arch that Hobomok and Hope Leslie both clearly embrace the idea of progress in American history (cf. “Romancing the Puritans: American Historical Fiction in the 1820s,” ESQ — A Journal of the American Renaissance 39:1 (1993), 107-32, here 109-10).

52 For a very brief account of the Puritan typology see the Introduction of The Norton Anthology of American Literature (New York: Norton, 1989), vol. 1, esp. 3. Ursula Brumm, Die religioese Typologie im amerikanischen Denken. Ihre Bedeutung fuer die amerikanische Literatur und Geistesgeschichte (Leiden: Brill, 1963) gives a detailed insight in the importance of the Puritan typology for the American thought.

53 For Child’s rewriting of the historical script see Carolyn Karcher’s Introduction to Hobomok, esp. xxi-xxii. I am tempted to take Karcher’s interpretation of Child’s achievement in revising “the patriarchal script” (xxiii) with a grain of salt. At that early stage in her life, Child probably was not quite the feminist Karcher takes her to be. For a critical comment on the somewhat over determined readings of several feminist scholars see Stephen Carl Arch, “Romancing the Puritans,” 109-11. Philip Gould criticizes feminist scholars for reading Puritanism in Hobomok as a rather simple metaphor for patriarchy in early 19ᵗʰ-century America, pointing out that Hobomok and Hope Leslie as well rather engage in a “cultural criticism” of their time, playing “upon the inconsistencies of republican political culture” (Covenant and Republic. Historical Romance and the Politics of Puritanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 95).

54 For the major traits of the sentimental novel see Janet Todd, Sensibility: an Introduction (London: Methuen, 1986). Child can be understood to use her heroine to respond to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloise (1756) and its virtuous heroine in terms of filial obedience, telling Rousseau that it is not a woman’s first duty to provide a socially acceptable family.

55 Domhnall Mitchell points out that the inclusion of Native Americans in the plots of Hobomok and Hope Leslie does not lead to a model of social integration but is rather “followed by the disappearance of the Indian as a separate entity. Intercourse leads to the death of the Native American character”. In his reading, the Native Americans are integrated into the story for poetic reasons and their exclusion from the happy endings is determined by the demands of the conventional literary designs (“Acts of Intercourse: ‘Miscegenation’ in three 19ᵗʰ Century American Novels”, American Studies in Scandinavia 27:2 (1995): 126-41, here: 133).

56 Cf. Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Hope Leslie; Or, Early Times in the Massachusetts, ed. Mary Kelley (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1993), 16-17.

57 The achievements of Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie are well stated by Susanne Opfermann, Diskurs, Geschlecht und Literatur: Amerikanische Autorinnen des 19. Jahrhunderts, 189-222.

58 Cf. Edward H. Foster, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, 137.

59 The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, ed. William Charvat et al. (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1962) Vol. 1, 263. For a comparative analysis of the historical novels of Scott, Cooper, and Hawthorne see William Giczkowski, “Cooper and Hawthorne: American Innovators in the Tradition of Sir Walter Scott” (Diss. Stanford, 1971). Giczkowski claims that Cooper and Hawthorne both study history with a view to the future (25).

60 Sarah M. Corse, Nationalism and Literature. The Politics of Culture in Canada and the United States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 25.