Author: John L. Hare

professor of American Studies and English at Montgomery College

Cavaliers of Virginia, The (1834–1835)

The Cavaliers of Virginia; or, The Recluse of Jamestown. An Historical Romance of the Old Dominion (1834–1835), published in two volumes, is the second of three novels by William Alexander Caruthers, a physician who helped originate the romantic Virginia novel and who died of tuberculosis in 1846. An action-adventure story and romance set in Jamestown during Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677), the novel uses the backdrop of colonial Virginia to tell its story, making characters of such noted figures as Nathaniel Bacon and Sir William Berkeley but in general not following the history. Unlike the historical Bacon, the novel’s character is the ward of a Virginia aristocrat who vies for the hand of that aristocrat’s daughter. At the same time, an Indian “princess” covets Bacon, even during conflict with the English invaders. These romantic tribulations overlap with political discontent within the colony, which erupts in open warfare between Bacon and his men and the governor and his followers. Caruthers drew on the myth of the Virginia Cavalier—a dashing and gentlemanly hero—in his portrayal of Bacon, and the novel was well received by reviewers, better than either of the author’s other two novels. Modern-day scholars have debated the book’s use of history and the Cavalier archetype but otherwise have not paid it more than cursory attention.


Swallow Barn (1832)

Swallow Barn; or, a Sojourn in the Old Dominion (1832), published in two volumes, is the first book-length work of John Pendleton Kennedy, a Maryland lawyer who later served in Congress and as secretary of the Navy. Ambivalent about whether he wanted his book to be a novel, Kennedy created a difficult-to-categorize story about the manners and customs of Virginian plantation-dwellers and slaveholders. Set near Martinsburg, the story focuses on two abutting plantations—Swallow Barn and the Brakes—and the long-running legal conflict between the owners. A secondary plot involving a courtship eventually unites the families and helps lead to the final resolution of the conflict. Upon its release, Swallow Barn enjoyed popular success, although the critics, even when sensing promise in Kennedy, found it to be too derivative of the work of Washington Irving. Modern critics who have considered it—they are few—have commented on its romantic treatment of slavery and its early interest in contrasting northern and southern culture, accomplished through the lens of a New York–born narrator.


Partisan Leader, The (1836)

The Partisan Leader; a Tale of the Future (1836), published in two volumes, is the second and best-known of the three novels by Beverley Tucker, a law professor and an outspoken advocate of states’ rights, secession, and slavery. A fierce opponent of President Andrew Jackson and his vice president, Martin Van Buren, Tucker set his book in the future, in which Van Buren has just won a fourth term as president and the states in the Deep South have seceded. Around this scenario Tucker weaves an adventure and romance involving the Trevor family and two Virginia-born army officers, one of whom eventually finds himself at the head of a guerrilla force fighting federal troops in southwestern Virginia. Published under the pseudonym Edward William Sidney, The Partisan Leader was distributed in an attempt to affect the outcome of the 1836 presidential election, but Van Buren won it easily. Tucker’s work found few readers, and critics split along political lines, with many disconcerted by the author’s prediction of the republic’s end. Modern commenters have noted the novel’s prescience in its outline of secession and civil war. In 1861, at the beginning of the American Civil War (1861–1865), The Partisan Leader was republished in New York City, this time under Tucker’s name and as evidence of a secessionist plot going back decades. A Confederate edition was published in Richmond the next year.


Knights of the Horse-Shoe, The (1845)

The Knights of the Horse-Shoe: A Traditionary Tale of the Cocked Hat Gentry in the Old Dominion (1845), published in two volumes, is the third and final work of William Alexander Caruthers, a physician who helped originate the romantic Virginia novel and who died of tuberculosis in 1846. First serialized in 1841 in the pages of the Magnolia: or Southern Monthly under the title The Knights of the Golden Horse-Shoe, the book is an action-adventure story and romance that focuses on the exploits of the band of adventurers who in 1716 accompanied Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood on an expedition to the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is widely considered to be the best of Caruthers’s novels and was the first full-length book, fiction or nonfiction, devoted to this historical event. Knights presents a Spotswood with a large and drama-filled family—the historical governor actually was a bachelor—including a son who has an illicit relationship with an Indian woman and a tutor who is not who he says he is. Plot turns include a murder, a kidnapping, a marriage, and, finally, the expedition, which redeems Spotswood’s leadership. Little is known about the book’s critical reception at the time of its release, but modern scholars have focused on finding connections between the characters’ romantic relationships and Caruthers’s views on western expansion.


Kentuckian in New-York, The (1834)

The Kentuckian in New-York; or, the Adventures of Three Southerns, by a Virginian (1834), published in two volumes, is the first of three novels by William Alexander Caruthers, a physician who helped originate the romantic Virginia novel and who died of tuberculosis in 1846. A genre-bending epistolary comedy, The Kentuckian follows the travels of several men who attended college together in Virginia. They all seek to explore different parts of the country in order to overcome the sectional differences then threatening to divide America. In New York, a South Carolinian falls in love, while in South Carolina, a Virginian does the same, helping to avert a slave rebellion at the same time. The novel ends with weddings meant to symbolize the eternal union of North, South, and West. Contemporary reviews tended to be favorable to the extent to which reviewers were not threatened by The Kentuckian‘s adherence to the tropes of sectional difference, while more nationalist editors were hostile. Modern critics have found Caruthers’s work most interesting as an early example of what one termed the “intersectional novel.”


George Balcombe (1836)

George Balcombe (1836), published in two volumes, is one of three novels by Beverley Tucker, a lawyer, judge, and essayist whose most famous work, The Partisan Leader, was published the same year. Born and raised in Virginia, Tucker lived in Missouri before returning home to be close to his ailing half-brother, John Randolph of Roanoke. This novel, written in the years after Randolph’s death in 1833, introduces a conflict over an inheritance that roughly parallels Tucker’s own experiences with Randolph’s will. In George Balcombe, William Napier sets off from Virginia for Missouri in search of a mysterious man named Montague who appears to have usurped Napier’s inheritance from his grandfather. Along the way he meets the titular character, drawn by Tucker as a classic and virtuous Virginia gentleman, who helps him retrieve his money and eventually win the heart of his cousin. Tucker develops archetypal heroes and villains as social and political models for his readers, while giving special attention to articulating, through Balcombe, theories regarding the natural subordination of women and black people. Edgar Allan Poe praised George Balcombe, “upon the whole, as the best American novel.” Modern critics, however, have generally dismissed its quality and importance.