Wednesday, January 11, 2023

1st Impression on Rural Hours by Susan Fenimore Cooper

Painting: Woman Walking on a Forest Trail by Vasily Polenov

Susan Fenimore Cooper was the daughter of the great American novelist: James Fenimore Cooper, who wrote The Last of the Mohicans, and "whom she served as devoted companion and amanuensis until his death in 1851." [source: Britannica]

Encouraged by her father, Susan wrote her first novel: Elinor Wyllys; or, The Young Folk of Longbridge, under the pseudonym Amabel Penfeather. It was published in 1845.

Besides a writer, Susan was also, what one might call, an amateur naturalist. She loved to observe nature and rural country life of her village: Cooperstown, New York, during her walks and excursions. It was from her journals on these subject, that Rural Hours was published in 1850, with quite a big success.

Despite of not putting her name as the writer (it's written only as "by a Lady"), her book was by no means unnoticed by her contemporaries. Even Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist at that time, had mention Susan's book in his letter to a friend:

Talking of books, I am in middle of one which pleases me…’Miss Cooper’s Journal of a Naturalist.’ Who is she? She seems a very clever woman & gives a capital account of the battle between our & your weeds”. - [source: Wikipedia]

(Rural Hours was also published as "Journal of a Naturalist").

Rural Hours was even believed to be the inspiration of Thoreau's Walden:
"Rural Hours in particular has been called the first major work of environmental literary nonfiction by an American woman writer, both a source and a rival of Thoreau's Walden" - [source: Wikipedia]

From her very first journal entry (Saturday, March 4th), I was instantly hooked; but it was her entry about birds which completely won my heart. I love birds, though living in a big city don't give me much opportunity to get to know them intimately. I'm contented enough to watch them flying and feeding on the trees outside my apartment window. Fortunately, I have a neighbor who's also a bird lover. Every morning she puts a plate of grains to feed birds around here outside her balcony. The visitors are mostly Old World Sparrows and two or three Black Pigeons. While the smaller one: Estrildid Finches are usually flying around and feeding on the trees. It's hard to see them, but I know where they are from their twittering. Also regular visitors to this area are Zebra Doves with their cute head movements when walking on the ground, and Sooty-headed bulbul with their beautiful singing voices.

Two of my favorite passages so far, are all about birds. I found them interesting mostly because I've never seen nor heard them. I've even checked YouTube videos because I was so curious. It actually added charm to my reading!

"Three large waterfowl also passed along in the same direction; we believed them to be loons; they were in sight only for a moment, owing to the trees above us, but we heard a loud howling cry as they flew past like that of those birds."


"The Dipper must indeed be a very singular bird; instead of swimming on the surface of the water like ducks and geese, or beneath like the loons, or wading along the shores like many of the long-legged coast tribes, it actually runs or flies about at will over gravelly beds of mountain streams."

This would be a very slow read for me. So exciting to explore the birds and flowers together with Cooper, all through the four seasons! Will report back my final thoughts in the next few weeks - or more!


  1. I love birdwatching, too. :D And these essays sound good; I never realized that James Fenimore Coope had a daughter who wrote, too.

    1. Neither did I! And so far I loved her writing. I'm thinking of trying her novel too.
      Oh, birdwatching is so satisfying, isn't it? I wish there's wood or forest near where I live. where I can do this at least on weekends...

  2. Isn't the loon cry eery? We like to go to the national park north of here where we often hear them. And this summer they had a couple of chicks, too!

    I like the new feature. I didn't really know anything about Susan Fenimore Cooper, so this is nice.

    1. It is eerie! Haven't heard any bird cries like that before.
      Thank you, Reese, I'm glad you like it too.


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