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Letters from an American Farmer and Other Essays

Letters from an American Farmer and Other Essays

J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur

Edited by Dennis D. Moore

ISBN 9780674051812

Publication date: 01/14/2013

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Letters from an American Farmer was published in London in 1782, just as the idea of an “American” was becoming a reality. Those epistolary essays introduced the European public to America’s landscape and customs and have since served as the iconic description of a then-new people. Dennis D. Moore’s convenient, up-to-date reader’s edition situates those twelve pieces from the 1782 Letters in the context of thirteen other essays representative of Crèvecoeur’s writings in English.

The “American Farmer” of the title is Crèvecoeur’s fictional persona Farmer James, a bumpkin from rural Pennsylvania. In his Introduction to this edition, Moore places this self-effacing pose in perspective and charts Crèvecoeur’s enterprising approach to self-promotion, which involved repackaging and adapting his writings for French and English audiences.

Born in Normandy, Crèvecoeur came to New York in the 1750s by way of England and then Canada, traveled throughout the colonies as a surveyor and trader, and was naturalized in 1765. The pieces he included in the 1782 Letters map a shift from hopefulness to disillusionment: its opening selections offer America as a utopian haven from European restrictions on personal liberty and material advancement but give way to portrayals of a land plagued by the horrors of slavery, the threat of Indian raids, and revolutionary unrest. This new edition opens up a broader perspective on this artful, ambitious writer and cosmopolitan thinker who coined America’s most enduring metaphor: a place where “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men.”

Praise

  • No one has better stated what Americans have most wanted to believe about themselves and their society. Crèvecoeur seems especially persuasive because he claimed to be a common American farmer—a pose rendered plausible by his richly detailed and affectionate descriptions of nature and rural work. But Crèvecoeur was no mere celebrator of American materialism. He understood that abundance could corrupt as well as liberate. Nor was he any champion of rugged individualism. He regarded social bonds as essential to sustained prosperity in the new land… No champion of competitive individualism, Crèvecoeur regarded unity, mutuality, sociability, and equality as essential to healthy communities and their families… Crèvecoeur concluded that American abundance did not automatically lead to American freedom and equality… Most readers know Crèvecoeur only from his famous third letter with its sunny optimism. That selective reading creates a misleading impression of his entire work, which ripens into a long expose of the American Revolution as brutal, divisive, and hypocritical. Often misread as a champion of American independence and democracy, Crèvecoeur instead mourned the demise of British America. In its full arc, Letters reveals a descent into political madness: it better resembles Heart of Darkness than Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

    —Alan Taylor, New Republic

Authors

  • Dennis D. Moore is University Distinguished Teaching Professor in the English Department at Florida State University.
  • Dennis D. Moore is University Distinguished Teaching Professor in the English Department at Florida State University.

Book Details

  • 416 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press
  • Introduction by Dennis D. Moore

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