The Two Admirals by James Fenimore Cooper

Summary: Admiral Oakes and Admiral Bluewater have sailed together in the British navy since they were boys and consider themselves brothers.  Admiral Bluewater, however, has always felt loyalty to the cause of the Scottish Pretender.  When news comes that the Pretender’s son has landed preparatory to launching a bid for the English throne, Bluewater finds himself torn between his political ideals and his friendship with Oakes.  His honor prevents him from sailing away with his ships and offering them to Scotland, but he could keep his ships idle as the French cross the Channel, thus enabling valuable foreign aid to reach the Pretender’s son.  If he does remain idle, however, Admiral Oakes will not—and his ships alone cannot defeat the French.

 Review: The Two Admirals does not rank as one of Cooper’s best works.  Its lack of organization and sheer contempt for the rules of writing threaten the interest of the modern reader, accustomed to focused narratives with fast pacing and tidy plot lines.  Cooper begins the story slowly, describing first obscure English law and then a number of characters who will ultimately prove only secondary to the plot.  This introduction sets the tone of the entire book as often the amount of space given to certain characters and scenes suggests their importance to the plot when Cooper never meant them to have any significance at all.  The belated introduction of the titular characters does little to advance the work if one assumes the author meant it as a nautical adventure; only after three hundred pages do the men finally take to sea.  The book lacks so greatly in unity that a coherent summary of it requires the omission of most of the plot.

None of this means, however, that the story will prove uninteresting to readers, especially those who already know and love Cooper.  Disappointment comes largely from the expectation that the author, in mentioning admirals in his title, meant to tell a sea tale.  However, if one understands the title as referring to the friendship of the admirals and the book as a character study and not necessarily an adventure (though Cooper does ultimately deliver an exciting naval engagement), The Two Admirals provides a solid and satisfying reading experience.

First Published: 1842

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