Cover image for The spy : a tale of the neutral ground
The spy : a tale of the neutral ground
Cooper, James Fenimore, 1789-1851.
Publication Information:
Laurel, N.Y. : Lightyear Press, [1976]

Physical Description:
350 pages ; 23 cm
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Inspired by accusations of venality leveled at the men who captured Major Andre (Benedict Arnold's co-conspirator, executed for espionage in 1780), Cooper's novel centers on Harry Birch, a common man wrongly suspected by well-born Patriots of being a spy for the British. Even George Washington, who supports Birch, misreads the man, and when Washington offers him payment for information vital to the Patriot's cause, Birch scorns the money and asserts that his action were motivated not by financial reward, but by his devotion to the fight for independence. A historical adventure tale reminiscent of Sir Walter Scott's Waverley novels, The Spy is also a parable of the American experience, a reminder that the nation's survival, like its Revolution, depends on judging people by their actions, not their class or reputations.

Author Notes

James Fenimore Cooper, acclaimed as one of the first American novelists, was born in Burlington, N.J., on September 15, 1789. When he was one year old, his family moved to Cooperstown, N.Y., which was founded by his father. Cooper attended various grammar schools in Burlington, Cooperstown, and Albany, and entered Yale University in 1803 at the age of 13. In 1806, Cooper was expelled from Yale for pushing a rag with gunpowder under a classmate's door, causing it to explode. He then spent some time as a merchant seaman and served as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy from 1808-1811.

In 1811, Cooper married Susan De Lancey, and lived the life of a country gentleman until one day in 1820. Cooper and his wife were reading a book together. When Cooper told Susan that he could write a better book than the one they were reading, she challenged him to do so. Thus began his career as an author, with Precaution (first published anonymously).

Cooper is known for writing more than 50 works under his own name, Jane Morgan, and Anonymous. His works included fiction, nonfiction, history, and travel sketches. He gained insight for his travel works while the Cooper family lived in Europe from 1826 to 1833.

Cooper is best known for the novel The Last of The Mohicans, which has been made into several motion picture adaptations, the most recent starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye. The Last of the Mohicans is part of The Leatherstocking Tales, which includes the other novels, The Pioneers, The Deerslayer, and The Pathfinder. Hawkeye, whose given name is Nathaniel Bumpo, is a recurring character in the series which accurately chronicles early American pioneering life and events during the French and Indian War.

In 1851, Cooper developed a liver condition, dying on September 14th of that year, just one day before his 62nd birthday.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Written in 1821, this historical novel is Cooper's paean to the Revolutionary War, as protagonist Harry Birch finds himself wrongly accused of selling vital information to the British. The book incorporates several real characters, including George Washington. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Cooper's unfairly neglected, first serious novel (1821), presented here in new, corrected text, annotated, and replete with prefatory material, should interest readers with varied tastes. Set in the Revolutionary War period, The Spy is concerned, on one level, with the conflicts and struggles between American colonists wishing to forgo allegiance to the British Crown and colonists wishing to remain loyal to the King. On another level, the novel presents the great game aspect of this battle for independence: basics such as loyalty (to whichever side), morality, duty, courage, and outward appearance became acutely problematical. Cooper's "neutral ground" is West Chester County, "the nearest adjoining to the City" and County of New York (i.e., the island of Manhattan). On this ground both opposing factions were active during the Revolutionary War. A great proportion of the people "affected a neutrality they did not feel," and many simply masked their true feelings. For fans of spy fiction and historical fiction, Cooper's novel provides strategic disguises and a fascinating secret agent. For appreciators of good writing, it offers eloquence and elegance of style to serve as a reminder of what is today a lost art. And all academic users will appreciate this updated, scholarly edition. S. I. Bellman emeritus, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona