Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur Criticism - Essay

Elayne Antler Rapping (essay date 1967)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Theory and Experience in Crèvecoeur's America,” in American Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 4, Winter, 1967, pp. 707-18.

[In the following essay, Rapping discusses Crèvecoeur's belief that the newly settled land of America offered an opportunity to test the principles of the Enlightenment.]

We often read that American literature developed late because we lacked a common cultural past, and meaningful conventions and symbols for describing our shared experience. But as early as 1782, with his Letters from an American Farmer, J. Hector St. Jean de Crèvecoeur discovered and made literary use of a very real imaginative past shared by Americans. For...

(The entire section is 5647 words.)

James C. Mohr (essay date 1970)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Calculated Disillusionment: Crèvecoeur's Letters Reconsidered,” in South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 3, Summer, 1970, pp. 354-63.

[In the following essay, Mohr claims that the usual reading of Letters from an American Farmer is an oversimplification, and that Crèvecoeur's vision of America was far more subtle and complex than most critics allow.]

In the study of the American culture J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur is certainly best known as the man who first posed the now famous question, “What then is the American, this new man?” Few questions are more often discussed, more often used as the introduction for a lecture, or more...

(The entire section is 3934 words.)

Marcus Cunliffe (essay date 1975)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Crèvecoeur Revisited,” in Journal of American Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1975, pp. 129-44.

[In the following essay, Cunliffe explores the contrasting tone and content of Crèvecoeur's two major publications about America: Letters from an American Farmer and Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America. The first is optimistic and patriotic; the second is pessimistic and critical.]


Almost every twentieth-century discussion of American history, literature, culture or character makes reference to J. Hector St John de Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer, a book first published in 1782. Anthologies usually find...

(The entire section is 7481 words.)

Joel R. Kehler (essay date 1976)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Crèvecoeur's Farmer James: A Reappraisal,” in Essays in Literature, Vol. 3, No. 2, Fall, 1976, pp. 206-13.

[In the following essay, Kehler takes issue with some twentieth-century critics who suggest that Crèvecoeur's Farmer James is merely a straw man for demonstrating the inadequacies of Enlightenment principles.]

Recent criticism of Letters from an American Farmer has focused more and more closely on the gradual psychological dissolution of St. John de Crèvecoeur's paradigmatic New World Man, Farmer James, seeing in it a case study in the souring of the American Dream. The concomitant trend has been to characterize James's observations in the...

(The entire section is 4178 words.)

Harold Kulungian (essay date 1977)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Aestheticism of Crèvecoeur's American Farmer,” in Early American Literature, Vol. 12, No. 2, Fall, 1977, pp. 197-201.

[In the following essay, Kulungian examines Farmer James's aesthetic sensibilities, which are based solely on sentiment, in an effort to better understand Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer.]

The colonial writer famous for first formulating the “melting-pot” interpretation of America, St. John de Crèvecoeur, was, like many sons of the European Enlightenment, a many-sided man. In his famous Letters from an American Farmer (1782) he evinces his aptitude for “speculative inquiries” such as history, economics,...

(The entire section is 2145 words.)

Pierre Aubéry (essay date 1978)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “St. John de Crèvecoeur: a Case History in Literary Anglomania,” in French Review, Vol. 51, No. 4, March, 1978, pp. 565-76.

[In the following essay, Aubéry examines the way in which Crèvecoeur sought to establish an idealized American identity even as his work appeared to justify the undercurrent of racism existing in America at the time.]

Michel-Guillaume-Jean de Crèvecœur, born in Caen on 31 January 1735, was a prolific writer. Under the pen-name of J. Hector St. John he published his Letters from an American Farmer,1 which later became Lettres d'un cultivateur américain,2 his own adaptation from his original...

(The entire section is 6040 words.)

Mary E. Rucker (essay date 1978)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Crèvecoeur's Letters and Enlightenment Doctrine,” in Early American Literature, Vol. 13, No. 2, Fall, 1978, pp. 193-212.

[In the following essay, Rucker analyzes Letters from an American Farmer as a dialectic between the rational and pessimistic Crèvecoeur and his emotional and optimistic narrative persona, Farmer James.]

The laudation of British North America offered in the first eight sketches of Letters from an American Farmer is predicated upon several Enlightenment concepts: the ideal value of an agrarian democracy located midway between unhandseled nature and civilization; the validity of an economic system based on the pursuit...

(The entire section is 10022 words.)

David M. Larson (essay date 1978)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sentimental Aesthetics and the American Revolution: Crèvecoeur's War Sketches,” in Eighteenth-Century Life, Vol. 5, No. 2, Winter, 1978, pp. 1-12.

[In the following essay, Larson argues that Crèvecoeur applied the conventions of the European sentimental novel to the uniquely American experiences of colonialism and revolution, with uneven and often unsatisfying results.]

After spending decades trying to identify wholly original, indigenous characteristics of American literature, critics finally seem willing to acknowledge the impact of English and European literary movements upon our literature. With the abandonment of literary isolationism,...

(The entire section is 5128 words.)

Myra Jehlen (essay date 1979)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “J. Hector St. John Crèvecoeur: A Monarcho-Anarchist in Revolutionary America,” in American Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 2, Summer, 1979, pp. 204-22.

[In the following essay, Jehlen analyzes the apparent contradiction between Crèvecoeur's admiration for America and his opposition to the American Revolution.]

The author of Letters from an American Farmer boasted that in America “we have no princes, for whom we toil, starve and bleed: we are the most perfect society now existing in the world.”1 But he opposed the American Revolution and remained loyal to the English crown, though his French origin alone should have made him its opponent....

(The entire section is 8548 words.)

Robert P. Winston (essay date 1984)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Strange Order of Things!’: The Journey to Chaos in Letters from an American Farmer,” in Early American Literature, Vol. 19, No. 3, Winter, 1984, pp. 249-67.

[In the following essay, Winston analyzes Letters as a romance, suggesting that such an analysis helps explain the apparent contradiction between the early optimistic letters and the pessimistic letters that appear at the end of the work.]

When Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur first published Letters from an American Farmer in England in 1782, an advertisement described the letters as “the genuine production of the American farmer whose name they bear. They were privately...

(The entire section is 7784 words.)

John Hales (essay date 1985)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Landscape of Tragedy: Crèvecoeur's ‘Susquehanna,’” in Early American Literature, Vol. 20, No. 1, Spring, 1985, pp. 39-63.

[In the following essay, Hales discusses “Susquehanna,” a portion of which appeared in Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America, and which describes the destruction of Wyoming, a community in central Pennsylvania.]

The last chapters of Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer are characterized by what Moses Coit Tyler called a “note of pain” that, by Letter 12, “rises into something like a wail” (2:356). The rural bliss described in the first letters has been shattered by the...

(The entire section is 9998 words.)

David M. Robinson (essay date 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Community and Utopia in Crèvecoeur's Sketches,” in American Literature, Vol. 62, No. 1, March, 1990, pp. 17-31.

[In the following essay, Robinson examines Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America as a text that illuminates some of the contradictions often cited in Letters from an American Farmer.]


By the end of the eighteenth century, Leo Marx tells us, the idea that “the American continent may be the site of a new golden age could be taken seriously in politics.”1 Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer is perhaps the best articulation of this utopian impulse, embodying in its third...

(The entire section is 5821 words.)

Stephen Carl Arch (essay date 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The ‘Progressive Steps’ of the Narrator in Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer,” in Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 18, No. 2, Autumn, 1990, pp. 145-58.

[In the following essay, Arch challenges the common critical assessment of Letters as an American romance, suggesting instead that it is a work of fiction designed to expose the dangers of revolution.]

Throughout J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur's Letters From An American Farmer, James, the narrator, is interested in the concept of “progress,” especially the “progressive” acculturation of Europeans who have immigrated to America. “All I wish to delineate,”...

(The entire section is 6654 words.)

Norman S. Grabo (essay date 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Crèvecoeur's American: Beginning the World Anew,” in William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2, April, 1991, pp. 159-72.

[In the following essay, Grabo suggests that Letters, taken as a whole, not only celebrates America's seemingly endless possibilities, but also expresses the disillusionment accompanying the failure of those possibilities to be realized.]

In 1779, Mr. James Hector St. John—a French-born New York farmer of loyalist sympathies, but suspected of being a Revolutionary spy—lay sick, hungry, impoverished, and terrified in the New York City prison. Born in Caen, Normandy, in 1735, the forty-four-year-old St. John found himself...

(The entire section is 6959 words.)

Nathaniel Philbrick (essay date 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Nantucket Sequence in Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer,” in New England Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 3, September, 1991, pp. 414-32.

[In the following essay, Philbrick claims that the usual assessment of Letters as an epistolary novel may prove useful in explaining the beginning and ending of the text, but such a reading ignores the middle sequence of letters dealing with Nantucket Island.]

In the last twenty years, critics have tended to approach J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer (1782) as an embryonic epistolary novel. When read in this way, what had earlier been considered a travelogue...

(The entire section is 5927 words.)

Jeffrey H. Richards (essay date 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Revolution, Domestic Life, and the End of ‘Common Mercy’ in Crèvecoeur's ‘Landscapes,’” in William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 2, April, 1998, pp. 281-96.

[In the following essay, Richards explores the contrast between the idyllic image of American life in Letter III of Letters from an American Farmer and the nightmare of Revolutionary cruelty depicted in “Landscapes.”]

Few Revolutionary-era writers defy categorization as resolutely as Michel Guillaume Jean-de-Crèvecoeur. Best known for his book Letters from an American Farmer (1782),1 Crèvecoeur wrote several essays, sketches, and other short works in English...

(The entire section is 8960 words.)