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The Spy

James Fenimore Cooper

Book Overview: 

James Fenimore Cooper’s second novel, The Spy is based on Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly series, and tells an adventure tale about the American Revolution. The protagonist is Harvey Birch, a supposed loyalist who actually is a spy for George Washington, disguised as ‘Mr Harper.’ The book brought Cooper fame and wealth, and is regarded as the first great success in American fiction.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .or some time in silence, during which the soldier gradually prevailed over the man; then he turned to the prisoner with a searching look, as he asked:

“Captain Wharton, whence did you procure this paper?”

“This is a question, I conceive, Major Dunwoodie has no right to ask.”

“Your pardon, sir; my feelings may have led me into an impropriety. This name is no counterfeit. Captain Wharton, my duty will not suffer me to grant you a parole; you must accompany me to the Highlands.”

“I did not expect otherwise, Major Dunwoodie.”

“Major Dunwoodie,” said Frances, “I have already acknowledged to you my esteem; I have promised, Dunwoodie, when peace shall be restored to our country, to become your wife; give my brother his liberty on parole, and I will this day go with you to the altar, follow you to the camp, and, in becoming a soldier’s bride, learn to endure a sold. . . Read More

Community Reviews

It's important to remember the time period that a book was written in when delving into a work of classical literature. For example, The Spy came out in 1821 when American novelists were still focused on telling stories about their brethren over the pond. It was quite revolutionary (pun sooo inte...more

I put off reading this book for a while because I knew it would be an important one, and I wanted to really read it. Well, I really read it, and it was fantastic! I feel kind of numb now that it's over. It was different than I had expected. I guess I thought it would be more complicated and exten...more

“The law was momentarily extinct … and justice was administered subject to the bias of personal interests.”

Wonderful Romantic adventure “inspired by a true story” during the American Revolutionary War. Well-developed plot. Cooper’s first “hit.”

“The heart which has not become callous,...more

Who am I to review a book that was written 190 years ago? I really enjoyed the book. It’s full of action, adventure and colorful characters. The hero is a master of disguise. (Fortunately for him, people in the 18th Century were easily duped by donning women’s clothing and fashioning wigs out of...more

What an amazing story. A beautiful testament to the life of the man who was Harvey Birch. (RTC, maybe.)

My current reading of The Deerslayer has turned my attention to works by Cooper that I've read already, a couple of which I haven't reviewed here before now. Published in 1821, The Spy was only Cooper's second novel, and the first to be much a literary success; set mainly during the Revolutionary War (in 1780...more

Written around 1820, this is one of James Fenimore Cooper's lesser known novels. Modern spy novels focus on the gadgets and cleverness of the spy trade. This one highlights the individual, and what it meant to be a spy in the Revolutionary War. Harvey Birch led a lonely and dangerous life, hunted...more

My absolute favorite JFC book, and one of my favorite books of all time.

The neutral ground, Westchester County, just north of the British held New York City, time 1780, the American Revolution is in its 5th year, but the endless conflict continues, cavalry patrols by both sides keep the blood flowing, irregulars, the skinners for the U.S. and cow- boys, their opposit...more

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