November 15, 2013 "Letters from an American Farmer" Is Subject of Book Discussion
New Edition of 1782 “Letters” Adds 13 Essays
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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. In the essays, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur introduced the European public to America’s landscape and customs. They have since served as the iconic description of a then-new people. Dennis D. Moore’ up-to-date reader’s edition situates those 12 pieces from the 1782 “Letters” in the context of 13 other essays representative of Crèvecoeur’s writings in English.
The “American Farmer” is Crèvecoeur’s fictional persona Farmer James, a bumpkin from rural Pennsylvania. In his introduction to this new edition, Moore charts Crèvecoeur’s enterprising approach to self-promotion, which involved repackaging and adapting his writings for French and English audiences. Moore did extensive research on the original manuscript, held in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.
Dennis Moore will discuss and sign his new book, “Letters from an American Farmer” (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2013), on Friday, Nov. 22, at noon in the Mary Pickford Theater, located on the third floor of the James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. This Books & Beyond event is co-sponsored by the Center for the Book and the Manuscript Division. It is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.
Born in Normandy, France, 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 Crèvecoeur, who also coined America’s most enduring metaphor: a place where “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men.”
Dennis D. Moore is University Distinguished Teaching Professor in the English Department at Florida State University.
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