James Fenimore Cooper Society Website
This page is: http://external.oneonta.edu/cooper/articles/suny/2013suny-macdougall.html

Cooper's The Headsman: What Have Swiss Executioners Got to Do with African-Americans?

Hugh MacDougall
(James Fenimore Cooper Society)

Placed on line July 2015

Presented at the 19th Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 2013

©2013, James Fenimore Cooper Society and the College at Oneonta
[may be downloaded and reproduced for personal or instructional use, or by libraries]

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 2013 Cooper Conference and Seminar (No. 19), The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York. Steven Harthorn, editor. (pp. 29-35)

Return to SUNY Seminars Articles & Papers

"The status of the executioner is best understood not as the status of an individual, but rather of an entire outcast race of people...." —Paul Friedland1

In previous Cooper Conferences I have presented papers both about Cooper's The Bravo, published in 1831, and The Heidenmauer, published in 1832, and so I turn today to his The Headsman; or The Abbaye des Vignerons, published in 1833, and the least regarded of Cooper's three so-called European Novels. What I found surprised me.

Since, as with The Bravo and The Heidenmauer, my purpose is to introduce a a comparatively forgotten novel, I shall begin by briefly sketching its somewhat complicated plot and settings, and how it has been received. I shall then explore what Cooper himself may have intended in writing it, including a rather startling recent theory about his meaning.

Setting and Story

The Headsman is set in Switzerland, in the early 1700's. Like many Cooper novels, its story is divided into three major segments. In the first part—aboard a sailing vessel caught in a terrifying storm on Lake Geneva—we are introduced to most of the major characters, and learn something of their personalities. In the second—in the picturesque town of Vévey during an important popular festival—the Abbaye des Vignerons of the book's subtitle—we meet the other important characters, and serious interaction between them begins. In the third and final segment, these now familiar people survive a terrifying storm in the Alps, as they climb to the famous Hospice at the Great Saint Bernard Pass. There the young hero and heroine—as required in any Cooper novel—are finally married, and the fates and identities of the other characters is resolved.

Who are these characters? Melchior de Willading, a Swiss nobleman from Berne, is taking his beautiful and virtuous daughter Adelheid to Italy for her health, stopping off on the way at Vévey to see its famous festival of the winegrowers. They are accompanied by Sigismund, a valiant young Swiss soldier who once saved Adelheid's life and with whom he is in love. Aboard the traditional sailing ship from Geneva to Vévey they encounter Melchior's old buddy, Gaetano Grimaldi, a now elderly Italian from Genoa whom Melchior has not seen for thirty years, and of whose life since their youth he knows nothing.

Also aboard the ship is Balthazar, the despised hereditary headsman, or public executioner, of Berne. He is a mild and meek man who has quietly slipped aboard despite the efforts of other passengers to intercept and stop him.

There are also two large dogs. Nettuno, a Newfoundland mastiff, belongs to Maso, a mysterious Italian sailor and smuggler. Uberto, a Saint Bernard mastiff, accompanies a monk from the famous hospice at the Alpine Pass. Unlike some of the human characters, the two dogs—after a preliminary squabble—become close friends for the rest of the story.

The voyage across Lake Geneva, which Cooper refers to by its French name of Lac Léman, is interrupted by a sudden fierce storm—which Cooper describes in brilliant detail—in which the sailor Maso takes control of the ship and tosses its cargo into the sea to lighten its load. An attempt by the passengers to throw Balthazar overboard, as a jinx who has caused the storm, is narrowly averted, and the Swiss soldier Sigismund—aided by the valiant dog Nettuno—rescues Melchior and Grimaldi when they are accidentally knocked overboard.

Eventually, most of the passengers arrive safely at Vévey, on the northern bank of Lake Geneva in the Swiss Canton of Vaud, which was then ruled—on behalf of the larger Canton of Berne—by a pompous Bailiff known as Peterchen. Crowds are gathering for the periodic festival of the winegrowers. Melchior and his daughter Adelheid stay with his friend Roger of Blonay, whose ancient castle overlooks the town, and are accompanied by Melchior's old comrade Gaetano Grimaldi, and by the soldier Sigismund who had rescued them from drowning.

At Blonay, after long discussions, Melchior agrees to his daughter's marriage to Sigismund, though she is a member of the nobility and her suitor is but an obscure—if otherwise admirable—commoner. But Sigismund then {30} reveals that he is, in fact, the son, and eventual heir, of Balthazar the executioner. He had been brought up apart from his parents, and his secret is known only to them and to his virtuous sister Christine. Shocked by this, the marital question is reopened—again at length—but is not for the time resolved.

Meanwhile the popular festival of the winegrowers begins, and is described by Cooper in long and even excruciating detail. It is to conclude, however, with a real and public wedding—which will be between Christine the executioner's daughter and Jacques Colis, a local merchant who has been bribed to marry her on condition that her infamous parentage remain a secret forever.

In the midst of the ceremony, attended incognito by Christine's parents, a voice in the crowd reveals who Christine really is, and Jacques Colis rips up the marriage papers and stalks off. Christine's mother protests strongly, in very eloquent terms, but it is no use. Adelheid accompanies the stricken and ashamed Christine to her lodging, comforts her, and invites her to accompany her father and his friends to Italy.

The third part of the novel begins the next day, as Melchior, Grimaldi, and Sigismund, accompanied by the two young women, set out for the Great Saint Bernard Pass which will lead them south. After a prolonged account of the road from Vévey to the foot of the mountains, they begin their ascent on mule-back to the famous Pass.

Part way up, however, they are suddenly struck by a fierce and unexpected snowstorm—giving Cooper a second opportunity to demonstrate his skill in depicting nature. They lose the trail and have given themselves up for lost, when the two dogs, Uberto from the Great Saint Bernard Hospice, and Nettuno—whose owner Maso has also been wandering about lost—come to save them. They are led to a barren stone rescue hut below the pass where they spend the night. The next day the storm has ceased. In an adjoining stone hut used to place the corpses of dead travelers—since there is no soil in which they can be buried—they find the recently stabbed corpse of Jacques Colis—the merchant who had jilted Christine. Hiding in a corner is Balthazar the executioner.

At the hospice a trial is begun to identify the murderer of Jacques Colis, with Balthazar the most likely suspect. Balthazar and his wife (who has joined him from down below), and even Christine herself, are all interrogated in the presence of Colis' corpse. When Balthazar is eventually cleared, Melchior and his friend Grimaldi finally agree to the marriage of Adelheid and the executioner's son Sigismund, and the wedding duly takes place at the Hospice.

There is then a rather complicated and hasty finale to the tale, when it suddenly turns out that Grimaldi is actually the Doge of Genoa, that Sigismund is his son—and not the son of Balthazar the executioner—and that Maso the sailor is also his son, but an illegitimate one. Thus—to the disgust of many reviewers—Adelheid's new husband is after all of noble birth like herself.

What Readers Knew

In reading The Headsman as it appeared in 1833, those familiar with Cooper novels could have come to some early conclusions:

It was obvious almost from the first that the beautiful Adelheid would eventually marry Sigismund, the valiant soldier believed to be the son of the despised executioner Balthazar, presumably to live happily ever after. Such a young couple appears in every Cooper novel, and as in The Headsman can usually be identified almost immediately. That Sigismund has rescued both Adelheid and her father from death only adds to the certainty.

Readers might also assume that there would be revelations about the identities of two characters with mysterious pasts. One is the elderly Gaetano Grimaldi from Genoa who had not seen his old buddy Melchior Willading for thirty years, and whom Peterchen, the pompous official in Vévey, repeatedly treats with unusual respect as though he knows something special about him. The other is the rough Italian sailor, Maso—also known as Il Maladetto or the cursed one—who is suspected of being a smuggler, but who was responsible for saving the ship during the storm on Lake Geneva.

Finally, it seems clear from the beginning that Balthazar the executioner—the Headsman of the book's title—is scheduled to play a crucial role in the story, and one concerning the general revulsion felt for executioners in Switzerland.

{31} Early Reactions

The first readers and critics putting down —, after its last chapter, were often puzzled. Almost everybody thoroughly enjoyed the two storms—on the water in Lake Geneva and amidst the cold and snow of the Alps—not to mention the always appealing roles played by the two friendly dogs Nettuno and Uberto.

Most American readers—and the novel was obviously directed at readers back home—seem to have assumed that Cooper was criticizing hereditary privilege, and inventing the idea of hereditary duties, in order to contrast the evils of Europe with the virtues of democratic America. That a daughter of the elite should marry a son of the people has long been a part of the American myth—at least in theory. Making Sigismund the son of a professional executioner, a personage unknown in America, only reinforced the thought. And when Cooper, at the end of the last chapter, suddenly promotes Sigismund to the nobility, many readers considered it a cowardly cop-out.

On the other hand, many readers and critics were bored by the long stretches of dialog, as protagonists argue the merits and demerits of Adelheid's boy friend. And many descriptions seem to have little to do with the story.

Both The Bravo and The Heidenmauer had been based on very short visits to Venice and to Duerckheim in the German Palatinate, but the Cooper family spent a month at Vévey and on Lake Geneva, and Cooper gathered local material both there and in the Alps. Whether because he loved what he saw, or because he needed to fill out his volumes, parts of The Headsman read like a travelers' guidebook.

The many chapters about the Abbaye des Vignerons—the winegrowers festival that forms the subtitle of the novel—seem to have been shoehorned into the story more because they interested Cooper than because they were necessary to the plot.2 The broken-off marriage ceremony between Christine, the daughter of the executioner, and Jacques Colis the merchant, could easily have been introduced without them. And since the last such festival had taken place in 1819, Cooper must have learned about it second-hand.

All told, The Headsman got, and continues to get, a very mixed reception. Discussion of the novel as literature tend, when not condemning its weaknesses, to treat it as political commentary comparing the evils of Europe with the virtues of America. A few see in it, as in Cooper's other two European novels, warnings to Americans of what may be in store for them. Though usually mentioned in books about Cooper, The Headsman has generated only a very modest amount of serious academic commentary.3

How Cooper Wrote The Headsman

Cooper and his family had spent the month of September 1832, in a rented villa in Vévey, where—according to his Journal&mdashk;he immediately got the idea for a Swiss novel.4 and a few days later began to write.5 During their stay, Cooper visited the Castle of Blonay6 and made the arduous trip by mule back to the Great Saint Bernard Pass,7 as well as traversing Lake Geneva several times aboard a primitive steamboat.8

The following month, back in Paris, Cooper wrote to his London publishers that: "I have deferred [the Monikins] in order to throw off at a heat, in readiness for the next season, "The Headsman of Berne"—an idea that has seized me with such force, that there is no resisting it."9

What was this idea? Cooper was very depressed as he wrote The Headsman in the Fall of 1832. During the previous spring and summer he had been surprised and horrified by American rejection of his attempts to support Lafayette's claim that American government and taxes were less expensive than those of France.10 Moreover, when an American newspaper published a vicious review of his recent novel The Bravo, Cooper erroneously believed it had been written in France and instigated by the American diplomatic mission in Paris.11

Thus Cooper felt he had been abandoned by the nation he had sought to defend and promote during his years in Europe. For not the first time he saw a world on which he relied for psychological support suddenly crumble under him.12 In January 1834, shortly after his return to America, he wrote to an old friend:

My pen is used up—or rather it is thrown away.... [W]hen critical acumen degenerates into personal hostility, when parties are formed, and calumnies are resorted to as the agents of reviewers it is time for me to stop.... The amount [Cooper means the "result"] of this...is a disgust in myself, that is far stronger than any of the expedients of my enemies. I never did anything with the disgust and reluctance that I felt while on work with the Headsman, and I cannot conceive of a consideration that would induce me to tax my feelings in the same way again.... God has so {32} constituted my mind that it never recovers from a disgust of this nature, and while I venerate the principle on which the happiness of this country is founded, and could wish to see it triumph everywhere, my own interest in the country itself is fearfully undermined—But I dislike the ungrateful subject, and will say no more....13

The significance of this is not whether it represented a long-term feeling by Cooper, though it would some eight years before he returned to Leatherstocking and to popular novels for the American public, but rather how he was feeling as he wrote The Headsman—surely nothing like his feelings during the composition of any other of his novels.

Is The Headsman Really about African-Americans?

But who, in America, were, like Cooper, despised and sentenced to despair? Might it not have been the African-American race, much of it enslaved and all of it subject to prejudice and ostracism? Was Cooper, as he composed The Headsman, identifying himself with Balthazar and with Europe's despised race of public executioners, and through them, with African-Americans at home?

On the face of it, it seems unlikely. Though Cooper strongly opposed slavery, and was well aware of how free Blacks were treated at home, he was not an abolitionist, and relied on time and changing public attitudes for the eventual emancipation of slaves.

But listen to Marguerite, wife of Balthazar and mother of Christine, as her daughter is rudely and publicly jilted by Jacques Colis, the merchant who has agreed to marry her&mdashk;in return for a huge dowry—on condition that her parentage remain a secret. Marguerite is addressing the Bailiff Peterchen, who had been performing the broken off ceremony.

We come of proscribed races...but we come too of God! The judgment and power of men have crushed us from the beginning, and we are used to the world's scorn and to the world's injustice!... All others come into the world with hope, but we have been crushed from the beginning. That surely cannot be just which destroys hope....
Humbled as we are, and despised of men...we have our thoughts, and our wishes, and our hopes, and memory, and all the other feelings of those that are more fortunate.... I have racked my brain to reason on the justice of a fate which has condemned all of my race to have little other communion with their kind but that of blood.... Thou art of an honored race...and canst little understand most of our suffering....14

This is of little interest to the Bailiff, who shortly afterwards cynically remarks:

There are feelings and sentiments that are natural to us all, and among them are...respect and honor for the well and nobly born...and hatred and contempt for those who are condemned of men. These are feelings which belong to human nature itself.... Thou mayest look whither you wilt...but if a man is...condemned of opinion, he might as well make his appeal to God at once for justice, as to any mercy he is likely to receive from men. This much have I learned in my experience as a public functionary.15

What has all this to do with race in America? First, though his American readers would not know it, Cooper was evidently familiar with the true status of executioners in much of Europe. Let me quote from Paul Friedland's recent scholarly study

The status of the executioner is best understood not as the status of an individual, but rather of an entire outcast race of people who inhabited many of he countries of northern and central Europe.... [M]any aspects of the executioner's daily existence, and, in particular, the extent to which he was allowed to come into contact with ordinary people, were carefully circumscribed....
As a general rule, executioners were born executioners, the descendants of a long line of executioners, who for generations had existed as a caste of untouchables. They did not, in fact, have to execute anyone in order to be despised and reviled, the children, the wives, the brothers, sisters, and cousins of executioners were all tainted. Many of the women who became the wives of executioners...were themselves born into executioner families; the fact that they had always been {33} excluded from society made it nearly inevitable that they would marry someone in the profession, as few other people would consider them to be suitable spouses....
In certain locations, the institution of the office of executioner seems to have given rise almost immediately to an hereditary dynasty.... Hereditary dynasties of executioners became so well established in France that the right of succession would eventually be written into the letters...establishing the executioner in office.... Outside of France, hereditary dynasties became the norm as well.... [P]ractitioners of this...profession came to be quite literally a separate tribe or race of people.16

Another recent scholar of the same subject notes that:

The social fact of dishonor made it all but impossible for an executioner's daughter to choose a marriage partner from outside the dishonorable milieu or for a son to leave his father's profession.17

Though I am not aware of legal requirements, except perhaps in Spain,18 forcing men to inherit this despised occupation of their fathers, they clearly had little practical alternative to doing so.

But if European executioners constituted an oppressed race—albeit one in which, like Balthazar—they could earn quite a bit of money, and if Balthazar's wife could consider herself, and her family, as members of one, did Cooper identify them with the oppressed race of African-Americans back home?

The answer—or at least a plausible one—came in 1974, when English Professor Harold T. McCarthy, in reading The Headsman, noticed something that had previously escaped notice—two names:19

The spiritual basis of Cooper's argument on behalf of the "race" of the Headsman is crucially reinforced by the names he gives to two of his principal characters. The three Eastern kings, or magi, associated with the birth of Christ traditionally represent the three races of mankind: Caspar...the children of Shem (Asia); Melchior...the children of Japhet (Europe) and Balthazar...the children of Ham (Africa). Melchior is the Swiss Nobleman; Balthazar is the accursed Headman. Long before "Uncle Tom" was created, Balthazar bore his character: wise, gentle, long-suffering, forgiving all...."20

Most of the characters in The Headsman have rather ordinary names, with the exception of Melchior, the novel's representative of European nobility, and Balthazar, the representative of the oppressed "race" of executioners.

And in The Headsman, the daughter of the European noble Melchior is to wed the son of the oppressed and symbolically African Balthazar. Is not James Fenimore Cooper—feeling himself oppressed and abused by his own people, identifying his characters with Whites and Blacks in America?

Cooper's pompous and prejudiced Swiss Bailiff in The Headsman, whom we have quoted before, suggests this rather directly, saying:

Now, yonder maiden, the pretty Christine, lost some of grace in my eyes...when the truth came to be known she was Balthazar's child.... [T]here is something—I cannot tell the what—but a certain damnable something—a taint—a color&mdashk;a hue—that showed her origin the instant I heard who was her parent.... Your Moor might pass for a Christian in a mask, but strip him of his covering and the true shade of his skin is seen....21

Harold McCarthy presumes that in thus linking The Headsman to the races of America, Cooper is primarily protesting against slavery. Geoffrey Sanborn, who has accepted McCarthy's interpretation, links it with the concept of racial "passing."22

My own view is that James Fenimore Cooper, himself experiencing for the time being strong feelings of rejection and oppression by his own nation, finds himself sympathizing with African-Americans in general and their plight in the increasingly racist America of the 1830s. This is, I believe, the idea which suddenly seized him on his arrival at Vévey in September of 1832, and also why—since he knew that his American readers were not ready for a marriage between White and Black—he from the beginning planned to extricate Sigismund from his predicament by creating a mystery, and a back-story, for Gaetano Grimaldi, the wise old friend and advisor to Melchior. Such last-minute revelations of identity are not uncommon in Cooper novels.

{34} Marriage between Blacks and Whites in America was a very real social and often legal taboo in 1832, even in States which had abolished slavery. In The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper had denounced that taboo (without breaking it) in the voice of Colonel Munro, when he suspects that the racial prejudice of the Southern-born Duncan Heyward causes him to prefer the silly White Alice to her Mulatto half-sister Cora.23 Now, in The Headsman, we can read him as again gingerly approaching the same topic.

End Notes

1. Paul Friedland, Seeing Justice Done: The Age of Spectacular Capital Punishment in France (Oxford University Press, 2012) 72.

2. According to Susan Fenimore Cooper, in her Pages and Pictures from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper (New York: W.A. Townsend and Co., 1861) 267: "Gleaning, as all reading travellers do, many lesser historical details, which give something of a peculiar coloring to the annals of every town on old Europe's soil, Mr. Cooper's fancy was pleased with the account of a holiday festival, celebrated at Vévey in past ages, and still kept up, at intervals, by the good people of the borough." I have not been able to locate his particular written source, though many existed.

3. Most commentators seem to assume that Cooper is repeating messages contained in the two earlier "European Novels," although—in my view—one of the few things Cooper did was repeat his messages, explicit or implicit, to his readers. Examples in books "about Cooper," are common, and I shall not cite them here. Some gave up on the book altogether. Thus Marius Bewley, usually an astute commentator on Cooper, concludes a segment on the European Novels with "We may omit discussion of The Headsman altogether." The Eccentric Design (Columbia University Press, 1959) 48. Among the few with more complex and substantive interpretations are:
—Helen Phinit-Akson [Helen James], "Illumination and Allegory: The Headsman," in her Ritual and Aesthetic: The Influence of Europe on the Art of Fenimore Cooper (Bangkok: Thammasat University Press, 1976) 59-71 [Doctoral Thesis]—on line at external.oneonta.edu/cooper/writings/1976-phinit-akson.html. She reads it as a religious ascent from the human evils down below to the ethical purity revealed in the Alps; in which the humility of Balthazar "contrasts with the confidence of his contemporaries in their absurd attempts to control their universe."
—Constance Ayers Denne, of Baruch College also sees The Headsman as a pilgrimage, but one in which "although the natural setting may shadow forth the Deity, it is the individual who fulfills omnipotent values in time." "Cooper's Artistry in The Headsman," Nineteenth-Century Fiction 29.3 (June 1974): 77-93; see also her "Cooper's Use of Setting in the European Trilogy, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, State University of New York College at Oneonta, July 1980—online at external.oneonta.edu/cooper/articles/suny/1980suny-denne2.html.
—Thomas R. Palfrey argues, without any "hard" evidence, that Cooper may have modeled The Headsman on Honoré de Balzac's 1831 story, "Jésus—Christ en Flandres." "Cooper and Balzac: 'The Headsman,'" Modern Philology 29.3 (February 1932): 335-341.

4. Cooper's Journal: September 6, 1832, Vévey, Switzerland: "I have determined now I am here to commence a Swiss Tale." James Franklin Beard, ed., The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper (6 vols.; Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1960-68) 2:330 [hereafter "Letters and Journals".

5. Cooper's Journal: September 10, 1832, Vévey, Switzerland: "This day I commenced the new tale, in which I wrote near half a chapter" Letters and Journals 2:331.

6. James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: The Rhine (orig. pub. 1836 as Sketches of Switzerland, Part Second; Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), Letter XXIV, 224-228. [hereafter cited as Rhine]

7. Rhine, Letters XXI-XXII, 205-218.

8. Cooper generally traveled on the Winkelried, an early steamboat (of American construction) on Lake Geneva. He gives that name to the traditional, and unique, Lake Geneva sailing ship in the first section of The Headsman.

9. Letter of October 12, 1832 to Colburn and Bentley. Letters and Journals 2:353-354.

10. See James Fenimore Cooper, Letter to Gen. Lafayette and Related Correspondence on the Finance Controversy (Reproduced in facsimile from the Original Paris Editions of 1831 and 1832 in English and in French; New York: Facsimile Text Society, 1931).

11. The best account of these events remains Dorothy Waples, The Whig Myth of James Fenimore Cooper (Yale University Press, 1938). Cooper told some of his side of the story in the badly received A Letter to His Countrymen (New York: John Wiley, 1834, reprinted in Bradley J. Birzer and John Willson, ed., James Fenimore Cooper. The American Democrat and other Political Writings. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing Co., 2000) 267-360.

12. See, e.g., Hugh C. MacDougall, "Eclipse and Rebirth: The Four Incarnations of James Fenimore Cooper." James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, The State University of New York College at Oneonta, July 1997, 75-80. Online at: external.oneonta.edu/cooper/articles/suny/1997suny-macdougall.html

13. {35} Letters and Journals, 3:27-30.

14. James Fenimore Cooper, The Headsman; or, The Abbaye des Vignerons (orig. pub. 1833; New York: W. A. Townsend & Co, 1859 [the "Darley" edition]), Chapter 18, 296-299. Hereafter cited as The Headsman.

15. The Headsman, Chapter 19, 305-306.

16. Paul Friedland, op. cit., 72-75.

17. Kathy Stuart, "The Status of Executioners and Skinners," 69, in her Defiled Trades & Social Outcasts: Honor and Ritual Pollution in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge University Press, 1999) 69-93.

18. See, e.g., W. R. Wilde, Narrative of a Voyage to Madeira, Teneriffe, and along the Shores of the Mediterranean.... (Dublin: William Curry, Jun. and Company, 1840) 1:34: "The finisher of the law [executioner]...is here hereditary, the unfortunate man's father, to save his own neck, having bound to this office himself and posterity, then consisting of three sons in rather good circumstances, who have thus been compelled to become executioners in different parts of Spain."

19. Harold T. McCarthy (1920-1989), long a Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, advanced his theory in a chapter on "James Fenimore Cooper: the European Novels," in his The Expatriate Perspective: American Novelists and the Idea of America (Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 1974) 25-46.

20. McCarthy, The Expatriate Perspective, 39.

21. The Headsman, Chapter 19, 307.

22. Geoffrey Sanborn (b.1965) a Professor of English at Amherst College, accepts McCarthy's reading in his "James Fenimore Cooper and the Invention of the Passing Novel," American Literature 84.1 (March 2012): 3-30. See also Hugh MacDougall, "A New Vision of The Headsman: Geoffrey Sanborn's 'James Fenimore Cooper and the Invention of the Passing Novel,'" The James Fenimore Cooper Society Newsletter 23.2 (Fall 2012): 10-11.

23. James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans (orig. pub. 1826), State University of New York Press, 1983, Chapter 16, 159: When Duncan Heyward, the novel's Southern-born romantic hero, informs Cora's father of his preference for Cora's all-white half-sister Alice, Colonel Munro responds angrily: "You scorn to mingle the blood of the Heywards, with one so degraded—lovely and virtuous though she be." Heyward indignantly denies any such "prejudice so unworthy of my reason!" though inwardly "conscious of such a feeling, and that as deeply rooted as if it had been engrafted in his nature."

Return to Top of Page