Author: John O. Beaty


John Esten Cooke (1830–1886)

John Esten Cooke was a novelist, biographer, and veteran of the American Civil War (1861–1865). One of the most important literary figures of nineteenth-century Virginia, Cooke was the prolific author of historical adventures and romances in the tradition of Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper. His most famous and perhaps best work, The Virginia Comedians: or, Old Days in the Old Dominion (1854), follows the aristocratic cad Champ Effingham in Virginia before the American Revolution (1775–1783). In fact, Cooke saw himself as a critic of aristocracy, but that criticism was rarely particularly sharp, and after the Civil War, his work unselfconsciously glorified the Confederacy in the tradition of the Lost Cause. “Come!” Cooke wrote in Surry of Eagle’s-Nest (1866). “Perhaps as you follow me, you will live in the stormy days of a cavalier epoch: breathe its fiery atmosphere, and see its mighty forms as they defile before you, in a long and noble line.” A relative by marriage to Confederate general J. E. B. Stuart, Cooke served with the cavalryman during the war and wrote hagiographic biographies of generals Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee.