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Miles Wallingford

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  • Posted August 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    "A sunset cannot last forever"

    It is hard to miss the religious and moral growth dimensions of James Fenimore Cooper's 1844 novel, MILES WALLINGFORD. This is the concluding half of a two-part, first person narrative of New York and the world from 1897 to 1844. Part One is AFLOAT AND ASHORE. *****

    The tale's hero, Miles Wallingford, at the close of the first and beginning of the second novel has just rescued from drowning in the Hudson river rich young Manhattanite Andrew Drewett. Andrew is, to all appearances, Miles's successful rival for the hand of Miss Lucy Hardinge, with whom orphaned Miles and his younger sister Grace had been raised after the death of their parents. The appointed guardian of Miles and Grace, till Miles's majority in 1803, is the neighborhood Episcopalian priest, Rev. Mr. Hardinge. Hardinge has a very flawed son, Rupert. Rupert's selfishness propel much of the plot of the two novels. *****

    Traveling toward Saratoga Springs on the same ship as Andrew Drewett are his mother, Rupert Hardinge and Rupert's new fiancee, the charming but calculating Englishwoman Emily Merton. Alas for Miles's ailing 19-year old sister Grace, she is cruising the Hudson with Miles, his favorite slave Neb Clabonny and their old shipmate Moses Marble. Grace had recently been cruelly jilted for Emily by Rupert which whom she had been secretly engaged since age 15. Seeing Rupert once again as the two vessels pass close by and overhearing him say unkind things about her, ultra-sensitive Grace's death comes all the faster. *****

    In her dying days Grace is attended by Rupert's younger sister and her best friend since childhood, Lucy Hardinge as well as by her brother, her domestic slave Chloe and sorrowing black slaves of Clawbonny Farm. Grace forgives Rupert and commands her vengeful brother to do the same. She also commissions him to give $20,000 from her estate to her onetime lover, so that he can start anew with his future bride Emily. Grace's death scene is as Christian as anything in English literature before John Henry Newman's great poem, "The Dream of Gerontius," set to music by Sir Edward Elgar. This call to "love your enemies" resonates through the rest of the novel and inspires the improbably good death of the old mariner Moses Marble. He was never positively evil, but only in his final months at sea with Miles, Lucy and their four children did he find Jesus. *****

    There is far more than religion, romance and moral growth in this novel. The Hudson River comes alive through Cooper's pen. Amid his mixed feelings about saving his rival, he sees for the first time a beautiful stretch of the river at sundown. Alas, however, "A sunset cannot last forever" (Ch. 1). *****

    Roughly 2/3 of MILES WALLINGFORD is about Miles's sea voyaging from Manhattan with goods for Hamburg. It is larded with too much nautical detail. As an American neutral in 1803-4, Miles has to run an impossible gauntlet between warring France and England. He is twice captured, twice escapes, but in the end loses his ship, the Dawn and is a ruined man. For the first time in his life he knows poverty, including debtors prison in Manhattan. *****

    Miles, though a sailor, is a good,Anglican Christian. His faith is tried like Job's and Jonah's. Lucy is always waiting for him, though it takes him far too long to realize. At novel's end they have been happily and fruitfully wed for 40 years. And Miles is on his knees to God.

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