“It is, doubtless, one of the most powerful historical tales ever written, and is regarded by many, as the best work of Mr. Cooper.” -The Literary World, Volume 9, July, 1851
Set in upstate New York on a comfortable estate, the law-abiding family of Mr. Wharton suddenly finds the Revolutionary War at its door. They are an American family with friendly British ties, but they have kept their dual loyalties from affecting their peaceful life, until a secret visit from Wharton's own son, Henry, changes everything. Henry is a British officer and has crossed behind American lines in disguise. When American troops arrive unexpectedly, Henry is discovered and arrested as a spy. Adding grief to the family's pain is the connection to Henry's captor, the noble Major Dunwoodie. He is Henry's sister's fiancé and Henry's own childhood friend; and they must all remain at the Whartons' until Dunwoodie can escort Henry to Washington for his trial. The plans for departing are delayed when British forces enter the vicinity and a battle breaks out within sight. When the British are defeated, Dunwoodie quarters captured Colonel Wellmere in the Wharton home. Now quarantined with prisoners and quartered American officers, the Whartons wait for their beloved Henry to be taken away and tried. Little does any of them know that the real spy still roams free and plies his trade within their midst.
As the war enters the family sitting room, the family members become divided. While eldest daughter Sarah swoons for British Colonel Wellmere, young Francis affirms her love for Dunwoodie and sees the war through his eyes. The family's once acceptable loyalties now conflict and finally threaten to break them apart. But when Henry escapes his capture and is helped by the real British spy, Francis must decide for herself and her family how important are their patriotic ties. Will she betray her brother to the Americans or will she let him go to the British, and risk the honor and career of the American officer she loves?
A story of love and intrigue, war and sacrifice, THE SPY touches the heart of early America and brings the fervor of the revolution into modern times.
James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Spy in 1821 intending the novel to preserve both the memory and the meaning of the American Revolution. Inspired by accusations of bribery and corruption leveled at the men who captured Major Andre (Benedict Arnold's co-conspirator executed for espionage in 1780), the novel centers on Harry Birch, a common man wrongly suspected by well-born Patriots of being a spy for the British. Even Washington, who supports Birch, misreads the man, and when Washington offers him payment for information vital to the Patriots' cause, Birch scorns the money and asserts that his actions 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.
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James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) grew up at Otsego Hall, his father’s manorial estate near Lake Otsego in upstate New York. Educated at Yale, he spent five years at sea, as a foremast hand and then as a midshipman in the navy. At thirty he was suddenly plunged into a literary career when his wife challenged his claim that he could write a better book that the English novel he was reading to her. The result was Precaution (1820), a novel of manners. His second book, The Spy (1821), was an immediate success, and with The Pioneers (1823) he began his series of Leatherstocking Tales. By 1826 when The Last of the Mohicans appeared, his standing as a major novelist was clearly established. From 1826 to 1833 Cooper and his family lived and traveled in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany. Two of his most successful works, The Prairie and The Red Rover, were published in 1827. He returned to Otsego Hall in 1834, and after a series of relatively unsuccessful books of essays, travel sketches, and history, he returned to fiction – and to Leatherstocking – with The Pathfinder (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841). In his last decade he faced declining popularity brought on in part by his waspish attacks on critics and political opponents. Just before his death in 1851 an edition of his works led to a reappraisal of his fiction and somewhat restored his reputation as the first of American writers.
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