News, Events, and Related Societies

Plans for a Bicentennial Celebration in 2021 of Cooper’s The Spy

The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground, was first published on 22 December 1821. Thus the bicentennial of the work that established Cooper’s national and international fame is approaching.

Members of the Advisory Committee of “The Writings of James Fenimore Cooper” and of the American Antiquarian Society have begun to plan a series of events and publications to celebrate the beginning of Cooper’s career as America’s most influential—and most read—antebellum novelist.

We envision events and activities for both scholars and more general audiences. AAS has a superb collection not only of Cooper printed texts but also of printed and visual collateral and contextual materials.  SUNY Press plans to reissue a revised text of The Spy, complete with extensive apparatus, and the Library of America has published the revised The Spy with Lionel Lincoln as “Two Novels of the American Revolution.”

We invite suggestions for appropriate ways of memorializing the publication of America’s first major novel, including scholarly contributions and ideas to bring the bicentennial to a broader audience.

We plan to devote sessions at the 2020 ALA conference to the Revolutionary War context of the novel, and in 2021, on some of the themes below.

Some topics under consideration:

  • Who reads Cooper now (or any antebellum American fiction)? What are the challenges and rewards?
  • What role did /does the novel play in historical memory of the Revolution?
  • What does the complex history of authorial revision of the novel tell us about Cooper as craftsman?
  • How does understanding the publication of Cooper’s novels contribute to book history studies?
  • How did the spy novel develop after The Spy inaugurated that genre? Why does the spy novel remain so popular among contemporary readers?
  • What is the place of The Spy in fiction about the American Revolution?
  • How was The Spy presented visually, on stage, and in film?
  • What other organizations might contribute to the bicentennial?
  • What roles can the American Literature Association, the Modern Language Association (and its regional associations), and the James Fenimore Cooper Society play? And other societies?

Please send suggestions to Ashley Cataldo (acataldo@mwa.org), with copies to Lance Schachterle (les@wpi.edu).

For “The Writings of James Fenimore Cooper”

Lance Schachterle, Editor in Chief

Wayne Franklin, Cooper biographer

For the American Antiquarian Society

Ellen S. Dunlap, President

James David Moran, Vice President for Programs and Outreach

Elizabeth Pope, Curator of Books

Ashley Cataldo, Assistant Curator of Manuscripts

Megan H. Fraser, Marcus A. McCorison Librarian

Nan Wolverston, Director of Fellowships and the Center for Historic American Visual Culture

Research Projects Under Way

“Cooper Biography”

Wayne Franklin (University of Connecticut) has now completed his magisterial two-volume biography of Cooper.  James Fenimore Cooper, The Early Years appeared in 2007, and James Fenimore Cooper, The Later Years, in 2017. Both are from the Yale University Press.

My review of Franklin’s second volume on Amazon may be helpful:

The second volume of Wayne Franklin’s definitive biography of Cooper covers the author’s life from his departure for seven years in Europe to his death in 1851 shortly before his sixty-second birthday. A miracle of compression of both fact and interpretation, “The Later Years” provides detailed accounts in two hundred pages of notes of Cooper’s complex financial arrangements for his publications; his text presents nuanced analyses of how each of his books in the extraordinarily productive final quarter century of his career relates to the immediate and cumulative events of his life. Franklin traces down all his many social contacts by consulting their writings for evidence of how they responded to Cooper, especially his very active engagement in European and American social and political issues. He probes Cooper’s reticent personal letters for evidence of his inward feelings and thoughts, and speculates that his occasional brusqueness and death were caused by a lifelong and increasing dependence on medicines containing mercury. He illuminates the whole trajectory of the career of America’s first internationally-celebrated novelist by remarking that of the authors who began their publications in the 1820s, only Cooper remained highly productive through mid-century. Cooper himself prohibited any biography, a prohibition his family honored which led to decades of misunderstandings about the man and his commitment to honest criticism of the new republic. Franklin’s two volumes now magisterially corrects those oversights.

Opportunities for New Editors

As noted above, only two of Cooper’s thirty-two novels have no editors assigned. His first novel Precaution has a fairly full holograph at the New-York Historical Society (NYC) and his Columbus romance, Mercedes of Castile, has a large holograph at the University of Virginia. Scholars close to those locations would be ideal candidates for editing the two remaining texts of fiction. If interested, please contact the editor in chief.

There are also numerous short and long historical and political works worth editing, especially for providing explanatory notes. A Letter to his Countrymen (1834), The American Democrat(1838), The Chronicles of Cooperstown (1838) and several historical-naval tracts he wrote would be good candidates, as indeed would be all of the lesser-known works listed in our “Fugitive Pieces” section. Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers, originally serialized and collected in 1846, is another good candidate for an editor with naval historical interests.