“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.
Since its creation by Congress in 1977 to "stimulate public interest in books and reading," the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress (www.Read.gov/cfb/) has become a major national force for reading and literacy promotion. A public-private partnership, it sponsors educational programs that reach readers of all ages, nationally and internationally. The center provides leadership for affiliated state centers for the book (including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and nonprofit reading-promotion partners and plays a key role in the Library’s annual National Book Festival. It also oversees the Library’s www.Read.gov website and administers the Library’s Young Readers Center and the Poetry and Literature Center.
The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 155 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.
These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. We are thankful of their contributions and encourage you to make your own.
First published in 1782, Letters from an American Farmer is a series of letters by J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur centering around various topics of the time period, including the birth of American nationalism and aspects of the slave trade. It enjoyed mediocre success in the United States, but become immensely popular in Europe, and influenced an eclectic range of later works of both American and European literature.
Letters from an American Farmer is narrated by an American peasant, James, who is in correspondence with an English gentleman, writing letters about different aspects of his life in the British colonial America. It is written in an epistolary format, comprised entirely of letters without introspective narration. While the novel centers around letters, only James' letters are shown; none of the replies are displayed. Throughout the novel, James travels to various locations, writing about a variety of topics, making observations from candid and amusing, to sociological in nature.
The author, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur, was praised for his use of letters to convey a fictional story. The book also received acclaim for its complex combining of fiction and nonfiction into a cohesive, engaging narrative.