The Water Witch


"The Water Witch" from James Fenimore Cooper. Prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century (1789-1851).
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"The Water Witch" from James Fenimore Cooper. Prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century (1789-1851).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781589631441
  • Publisher: International Law & Taxation
  • Publication date: 3/1/2001
  • Pages: 472
  • Product dimensions: 1.05 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 8.00 (d)

Meet the Author

James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper is considered by many to be America's first great novelist. His most popular work, The Last of the Mohicans, has remained one of the most widely read novels throughout the world, greatly influencing the way many cultures have viewed both the American Indians and the frontier period of U.S. history.


James Cooper (he added the Fenimore when he was in his 30s) was born September 15, 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey, to William Cooper and Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper. In 1790 the family moved to the frontier country of upstate New York, where William established a village he called Cooperstown. Although cushioned by wealth and William's status as landlord and judge, the Coopers found pioneering to be rugged, and only 7 of the 13 Cooper children survived their early years. All the hardship notwithstanding, according to family reports, the young James loved the wilderness. Years later, he wrote The Pioneers (1823) about Cooperstown in the 1790s, but many of his other books draw deeply on his childhood experiences of the frontier as well.

Cooper was sent to Yale in 1801 but he was expelled in 1805 for setting off an explosion in another student's room. Afterward, as a midshipman in the fledgling U.S. Navy, he made Atlantic passages and served at an isolated post on Lake Ontario. Cooper resigned his commission in 1811 to marry Susan Augusta De Lancey, the daughter of a wealthy New York State family. During the next decade, however, a series of bad investments and legal entanglements reduced his inheritance to the verge of bankruptcy.

Cooper was already 30 years old when, on a dare from his wife, he became a writer. One evening he threw down, in disgust, a novel he was reading aloud to her, saying he could write a better book himself. Susan, who knew that he disliked writing even letters, expressed her doubts. To prove her wrong he wrote Precaution, which was published anonymously in 1820. Encouraged by favorable reviews, Cooper wrote other books in quick succession, and by the time The Last of the Mohicans, his sixth novel, was published in 1827, he was internationally famous as America's first professionally successful novelist. Eventually he published 32 novels, as well as travel books and histories. Cooper invented the genre of nautical fiction, and in the figure of Nathaniel or "Natty" Bumppo (Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans) -- the central character in the five Leatherstocking Tales Cooper published between 1823 and 1841 -- he gave American fiction its first great hero.

Shortly after publishing The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper moved his family to Europe, but in 1833 he returned to America, moving back into his father's restored Mansion House in Cooperstown. He died there on September 14, 1851.

Author biography courtesy of Barnes & Noble Books.

Good To Know

Cooper was expelled from Yale due to his passion for pranks, which included training a donkey to sit in a professor's chair and setting a fellow student's room on fire.

Between 1822 and 1826 Cooper lived in New York City, and was a major player on its intellectual scene. He founded the Bread and Cheese Club, which had many high-profile members, including notable painters of the Hudson River School and writers like William Cullen Bryant.

Read More Show Less
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 15, 1789
    2. Place of Birth:
      Burlington, New Jersey
    1. Date of Death:
      September 14, 1851
    2. Place of Death:
      Cooperstown, New York
    1. Education:
      Yale University (expelled in 1805)

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  • Posted April 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    "Women and winds are only understood when fairly in motion" (Ch. VI)

    James Fenimore Cooper's 1830 novel, THE WATER-WITCH; or THE SKIMMER OF THE SEAS is a great sea adventure novel by the man who invented the genre. It was in 1823 that Cooper ( 1789-1851) did the inventing. He also underlined his novelty through subtitling THE PILOT as A TALE OF THE SEA. Cooper was reacting, as a former U.S. naval officer, to a vaguely similar 1821 novel by Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832), THE PIRATE, set in the Orkney and Shetland Islands of Scotland.

    Scott, a volunteer home guard cavalry officer back when Britain feared an invasion by Napoleon, was not a naval expert. And some of what Sir Walter wrote about a ship's rigging, maneuvers and the like annoyed Cooper the professional seaman. So he wrote the PILOT, about a fictional raid made on the northeastern coast of England by John Paul Jones in the American Revolutionary War. Cooper then wrote sea adventure tale upon sea adventure tale.

    Curiously, Cooper wrote THE WATER-WITCH toward the end of an eight-year residence, largely on land, in Europe. He minutely described from memory and other sources the coastal waters of New Jersey, Manhattan and Long Island and imagined various chases by a royal warship, the Coquette, of a smart, unarmed, graceful, fast smuggling vessel called THE WATER-WITCH, which had acquired a reputation for being protected by supernatural powers. Its mysterious, never brought to bay captain, was styled THE SKIMMER OF THE SEAS.

    I do not recall personally ever having been in any form of sailing vessel, small or large, in my nearly 75 years of life. But then how many Americans had sailed anywhere in 1830? Most of their ancestors had come from Europe by sea but they were farmers and people who moved westward mainly on foot. THE WATER-WITCH minutely details the construction of sailing ships in the very early 1700s: British, American Colonial and two French warships. I had to look up a few words in dictionaries. Thus, a sailing ship "in stays" is about to turn back into the direction whence it had just sailed. But I imagined James Fenimore Cooper as a kind of hi-tech fictioneer happily introducing Americans and Europeans to the intricacies of sailing vessels. I was enthralled and so apparently were Cooper's contemporaries. They were like Walter Scott's readers, who had enjoyed his minutely detailed description of medieval body armor and weapons.

    Cooper knew and loved the sea. Some of his descriptions stay with me:

    "So profound was the stillness in the Coquette, that the rushing sound of the water she heaped under her bows was distinctly audible to all on board, and might be likened to the deep breathing of some vast animal, that was collecting its physical energies for some unusual exertion" (Ch. XXX).

    And those partners of the sea, the winds, what are they like? "Women and winds are only understood when fairly in motion" (Ch. VI).

    If winds, tides, the ocean, shores, sea chases and shipboard minutiae are not enough to tempt you to open THE WATER-WITCH, there is more. There is humor in Falstaffian New York Alderman and dealer in smuggled goods, Myndert Van Beverout, a patriotic Dutchman who wishes Queen Anne, would give back their colony to the Netherlands. There are romances, trysts, cross dressing, hidden identities, arguments about free trade versus Britain's imposed colonialism. There are male jealousies and instances of great courage and gallantry by land and by sea.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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