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American Literature

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Washington Irving (1783-1859), an American, essayist, historian, and author who wrote the book "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", was born in 1783, in New York. He studied law and later practiced law but halfheartedly. Therefore, he ventured into writing and made an excellent career in it. He is referred to as the first American writer of letters and the pioneer of American short story (MobileReference 641).

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) was an American novelist. He was born to Quarkers Elisabeth Fenimore Cooper and Judge William Cooper in Burlington, New Jersey. He joined the Navy after he was expelled from Yale following a number of pranks, including training a donkey on how to be seated on a professor’s chair. He later resigned from the navy in 1811 after his father’s death in 1809 that led him to financial independence. He became a farmer and developed a passion of reading novels, a venture that plunged him into writing. His wife was skeptical on his writing skills, and this became his greatest motivator (Knight 312). The two writers as depicted by their biographies switched their professions to become writers.


Irving and Fenimore are hard to classify a member of a specific literary movement.  They were pioneers in the early realism works and they played a vital role of creating a literary culture in America and Europe. Irving was a voluminous writer, who engaged in literary satires of 18th century tradition, romantic and comic. He published biographies, histories, and parodies. What made him extremely popular was his free range coupled with geniality. His critics charge him that he was too continental and urbane to be considered a truly “American” writer. Comparatively, Fenimore Cooper is referred to as “The American Scott”. The phrase is directed towards Cooper’s epic and romantic stories of Chingachgook, and Hawkeye, his Mohegan companion and friend (Haen 297). His novels are quite similar to tales of Ivanhoe by Walter Scott and many other heroes Scotland and England.

Both Washington Irving and Fenimore Cooper wrote a series of letters and Short stories.  Irving became a prolific writer of fiction and nonfictional books. He wrote a number of short stories, histories, biographies, and his travels tales. His characters like Rip Winkle and Crane Ichabod became icons of American culture. Mr. Fenimore’s literature like the Bon Sauvage Tales of Rousseau, and the clash of cultures have become an inspiration to many films, television programs, and the American culture.

The two authors authored books that contributed in shaping the American politics. Irving composed a comprehensive weave that centered on facts and fiction. He wrote the history of New York and described how the Dutch Dynasty ended.  Cooper also intellectual life and politics dominated his life while living in New York City at the beginning of 1980s. He wrote, “The last of the Mohican” which depicted racial politics with regards to future needs and sensibilities. His themes became immensely popular with the American public although his works were not always received well in the literary circles. While living in Europe, between 1826 and 1833, Cooper published romances and other books which centered on politics, democracy, and the society (Morley 167).

The two authors were highly patriotic since they served their country in their literary works. Irving left America for England in 1815 when he visited his brother and stayed for seventeen years. He travelled to a number of countries in Europe. His failed business venture in Europe made Irving and his brother to resume writing with the hopes of earning some income. He wrote, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" among other books, which were wildly popular in America, and soon in Europe where they were welcomed by writers, artists, actors, Dukes, and Lords, Queens and Kings. The “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is about the marvelous tales of globin and ghosts, haunted brooks, haunted fields, and haunted houses (Bendixen & Nagel 413).

The American literature giants were so imaginative and creative that their literature stirred Europe. Irving is sometimes read as a reactionary political novelist who was nostalgic for the aristocratic European culture and disgusted concerning the American rubble. He was popular in both America and Europe for his outstanding literature. His work as an American top diplomat increased his frequency of travelling and access to varied literary experiences. He used a lot of European analogies to describe a real American nationalist.

Scholars have debated a lot on Irving's work. A few considered his literature to be a lesser quality while the majority considers it exceptional. James Cooper‘s literature also moved to Europe. He became an American national figure even as he engaged in literary works England as he depicted a true American nationalist.

Irving is highly credited for his pioneer work. He is the 1st American to be given the title of a man of letters. He was the first scholar to earn a living solely by writing. He perfected the American literature on the short story, and his stories were placed firmly on United States (Watts 321). His contributions and life philosophy were synonymous to his contemporary, James Cooper who centered his literary work on romance, gender issues and politics.


This paper compares the authors Washington Irving (1783-1859) and James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) who contributed a lot to shaping the American culture though humor, romance and nationalistic philosophies. Both authors are considered to be among the American literature pioneers for their intensive literature both in America and Europe. Several scholars have regarded their literature as exceptional in the way they captured the life and values of an American in the 18th century to date.

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