Chapter

John Esten Cooke (1830–1886)

Edited by Louis P. Masur

in “… The Real War Will Never Get in the Books”

Published in print September 1995 | ISBN: 9780195098372
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199853908 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195098372.003.0004
John Esten Cooke (1830–1886)

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Like so many others, John Esten Cooke feared the loss of his creative wellsprings, feared that “writing is a lost art with me”, but he never stopped composing. Born in Virginia, Cooke had achieved prominence for his romances set in pre-Revolutionary times. With The Virginia Comedians and Henry St. John, Gentleman, Cooke established himself in the South and also gained the attention of Northern critics, particularly the powerful George Duyckinck and Evert Duyckinck. His romances were criticized for weak plots and thinly drawn characters, but they expressed Cooke's longing for a golden age of Virginia history, an age he viewed as characterized by the perfect intermingling of democracy and aristocracy among Cavalier descendants. Cooke longed as well for progressive changes in antebellum Virginia. In Elite: or, the Human Comedy he shifted from romance to social criticism but his readership ignored him. He never became the writer of the South, but he died one of the premier writers of the Confederacy.

Keywords: John Esten Cooke; romances; George Duyckinck; Evert Duyckinck; social criticism; Confederacy; democracy; aristocracy; Virginia

Chapter.  8113 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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