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Secret Origins

Secret Origins

(p.17) Chapter One Secret Origins
Bending Steel
Aldo J. Regalado
University Press of Mississippi

This chapter examines how early nineteenth-century American authors employed heroic fiction to define the national character at a time when the United States was engaging modernity on its own terms for the first time in its history. The republican modernity that emerged in this era promised to realize the American Revolution's liberalizing sentiments through opportunities created by improvements in infrastructure, as well as transportation and communications technologies. Foremost among those who responded to these changes through heroic fiction was James Fenimore Cooper, who created Natty Bumppo, the renowned frontiersman of his Leatherstocking Tales. He imagined an American hero who embraced the competitive spirit of nineteenth-century America, while affirming traditional notions of race, class, and gender. However, other antebellum authors challenged Cooper's heroic paradigm as the Market Revolution intensified. Dime novel writers created working-class heroes that openly challenged the legitimacy of elites, sometimes even by appropriating the lineaments of the frontiersman for proletarian ends.

Keywords:   heroic fiction, republican modernity, American Revolution, James Fenimore Cooper, Natty Bumppo, Leatherstocking Tales, American hero, Market Revolution, American authors, working-class heroes

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