James Fenimore Cooper’s Precaution – better than Austen’s Persuasion?

February 16, 2021

James Fenimore Cooper's Precaution - better than Austen's Persuasion? 

Since I have just spent a year writing the sequel to Jane Austen’s Persuasion, I’ve understandably been pretty immersed in the novel and its characters. After all, it’s my favourite Austen novel. And I think it is fair to say that I’m not alone – it is a favourite with many Austen lovers. After all, who could not feel for Anne and Wentworth, and the struggle they make to find what they once lost? I can’t imagine anyone not loving this beautiful story! 

Well, it may come as a shock but while Persuasion was enjoying some popularity after its post-humous publishment in 1818, not all the reviews were favourable.

Most interestingly, a young man by the name of James Fenimore Cooper was said to have read with disdain a ‘newly published novel’ which is not named, but which has been established by literary critic George Hastings as very likely being Austen’s Persuasion. Cooper’s own daughter related later that Cooper read it through, then remarked to his wife that he could ‘write a better novel himself’.

He then proceeded to make good on that remark, and a year later, in 1820, his novel, Precaution, was published.


By James Fenimore Cooper

Which was the better novel?

Let us know in the comments below!

As in Austen’s novel, Precaution concerns itself with the matter of parental interference in courtship, In Cooper’s novel, this can come off at times as moralizing, whereas Austen’s novel was on the whole less didactic, less ‘preachy’. Austen seems to have overall rooted for the couple she writes of, and to argue for, as she termed it in Northanger Abbey, ‘filial disobedience’. She roots very much for Anne’s original inclinations as the ones which would have led to her happiness, and suggests that the regarding of ‘parental guidance’ in the form of Lady Russell’s advice, as leading to her unhappiness.

Conversely, Cooper’s counter-novel argues the opposite. His heroine, Emily, is rewarded for her ‘unvarying sense of duty’ which is her guidepost throughout Precaution. 

In any case, I still enjoyed reading Cooper’s novel very much, and found it entertaining and fascinating when read with the understanding of the motivation behind it, and especially knowing that Persuasion was likely the blueprint for his perhaps more moralistic version. This debut novel launched Cooper’s career as a writer and he went on to write several wonderful and intelligent novels for which he is more widely known, The Last of the Mohicans perhaps being his most well-known novel.

I will leave it to readers to get hold of a copy of Precaution and let us know once you make up your own minds as to which was the ‘better novel’. 


Fenimore Cooper, James. Precaution. New York: A.T. Goodrich & Co., 1820.

Fenimore Cooper, Susan. ‘Introductions to Novels by James Fenimore Cooper.’ James Fenimore Cooper Website. 

Hastings, George E. "How Cooper Became a Novelist." American Literature, vol. 12, no. 1, 1940, pp. 20-51

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What is ‘White Soup’?

February 16, 2021
White soup image

What is "White Soup"? 

Hello regency romance and Jane Austen fans! I have been making a start on my next JAFF novel (it is a sequel to Northanger Abbey!) and early in the novel I had to do some research for what would appear on a regency dinner table. Very popular in England at this time was something called, ‘white soup’. 

It appears in many novels and of course in many cookbooks of the time, and was apparently a staple dish on the regency table. Jane Austen herself mentions the delicacy in Pride and Prejudice as being prepared in large quantities for the ball at Netherfield. Joyce White in her regency blog mentions that it's making involved a large and expensive quantity of ingredients, and that its value lay in its colour; white foods (white flour, white sugar, etc) were considered things richer people only could afford and thus white foods, including white soup, was seen as a status indicator. 

So what, exactly, is white soup? The Regency Cookbook notes that it was a veal broth, made from either veal or chicken, with the addition of any of the following: anchovies, eggs yolks, ground almonds, rice, vegetables, lettuce heads, and cream, just to name a few – the actual ingredients varied, and some recipes are quite different to others. It is called white soup because no red meats are used in making it.

Finally, Delicious Magazine published a very easy to follow recipe for this soup in 2014, which I have included here for those curious souls who would like to recreate this Regency delicacy!

More Recipes

White Soup


Put the bones, whole chicken and bacon chunks into a large pan, then add the peppercorns, herbs, lemon zest, onion, celery and mace. Cover with water, then bring to a boil, skimming off any scum. reduce the heat, then simmer very gently for 2½ hours. Remove the chicken and set aside, then strain the stock through a fine sieve (discard flavourings) and cool (overnight if possible).

When cool, skim off the fat, then return about 700ml stock to a clean pan and heat gently. Pound the almonds in a pestle and mortar with 2 tbsp cold water to make a coarse paste (or pulse in a small food processor). Put the cream in a pan and add the almonds, bread, lemon zest and powdered mace. Bring to the boil, simmer for 1-2 minutes, then add to the pan of stock. Simmer for 2 minutes, then strain again, pressing with the back of a spoon. Shred the meat from the reserved chicken, then add to the soup to warm through. Serve simply, with a little bread if you like.

White soup image
White soup image


veal or beef bones

(from butcher’s shops), chopped


1 small free-range chicken


British free-range unsmoked bacon, cut into chunks


6 black peppercorns


Bouquet garni

(or a bundle of fresh herbs such as thyme, parsley, bay leaf, marjoram)


Pared zest ½ lemon

1/2 x

 1 large onion, chopped


 2 celery sticks, chopped


3 mace blades


To thicken:

blanched almonds


double cream


1 thick stale bread slice, whizzed into breadcrumbs


Lemon zest strip


1 mace blade, crushed to a powder


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How to write a novel – tips for beginners

February 16, 2021
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How to Write a Novel - Tips for Beginners 

Have you always wanted to write a novel? Whether you want to write your own life story, or a romance or a fast-paced thriller, you are not alone! Apparently about 82% of people aspire to write a novel or a book of some kind. If writing a novel is something you have always wanted to do, don’t think you can’t do it—just begin writing, even if you don’t know where the story will end up! 

If you can’t think of a great story line, or a good beginning, that’s fine – and normal! The way I began my very first book, A Scandal at Delford, was really quite random; I had all kinds of excuses NOT to write: I was too busy, I didn’t have any good ideas, I didn’t have the stamina. But one day just after I turned 50, I just decided I had had enough of putting it off because I lacked a great story line and the confidence to start. So I sat down and opened Word, thought about what I might like to read, and I simply wrote a few sentences.

Then the next day I added a few more. Then a few more. And so on. There was no pressure, I just committed to writing a paragraph a day. Before long, I had several pages, but I think it was several chapters in before I began to think about where it might go. And that I might actually be able to write a whole novel. I didn’t know that for sure, but I knew one thing; the most important thing to do is to begin.

I’ll post regularly with hints for would-be writers, and I can only encourage anyone who has a dream of writing, to stop putting it off, go sit down with your pen or your PC, and bring up a blank page….and write one sentence, one that you like, one that makes you happy. Then add another. And another. That’s your first draft, and the feeling when you have finished it is worth all the discomfort of facing that first blank page before you have begun!

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