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Cooper, James Fenimore. (1789 - 1851).

L i f e

- born in Cooperstown = founded and named by his father

> the source for his aristocratic view of the frontier and its inhabitants

> the model for the frontier setting of his The Pioneers (1823)

- his strong-willed father, a country gentleman, Federalist, and political and social conservative

- the tension with his father anticipated the tension in his writing

= the tension in the nation’s culture: desire for the personal and cultural originality x the luring of the established forms and inherited contexts

W o r k

- aimed to produce a purely American work on the theme of love of country

N o v e l  o f  M a n n e r s :

Precaution (1820):

- an early novel of manners in the style of Jane Austen

F r o n t i e r  N o v e l s :

The Spy (1821):

= set in the Revolutionary War

- believed American history could be a suitable setting for fiction

‘The Leatherstocking Tales’ (1823 - 1841):

- a series of the novels connected by the character Natty Bumppo = Hawkeye

- the name: from Hawkeye’s nickname based on his habit of wearing long deerskin leggings

- not published according to the regular course of their incidents

- a sense of loss: an impossible vision of the land gradually diminishes x but: remains a powerful imagined alternative to material progress

- articulated the American myth of the movement from old age to youth, and of the past’s continued presence

- defined the frontier as the primary fact of American history, and landscape as the fundamental reality of American life

- established the prototypical American hero: Hawkeye = the cultural mediator btw the wilderness x the civilisation

= a metaphor for Cooper’s own literary achievement: a balanced existence receding ceaselessly into the past

> influenced Herman Melville’s Ishmael, Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, William Faulkner’s Ike McCaslin, and Ernest Hemingway’s protagonists

Chronology of the novels with respect to the character of Hawkeye:

The Deerslayer (1841)
The Last of the Mohicans (1826)
The Pathfinder (1840)
The Pioneers (1823)
The Prairie (1827)

S e a  N o v e l s :

- blends technical detail, memorable characters, and patriotic appeal

- intermixes the American history and the life at sea

> influenced Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad

C r i t i c i s m :

(a) defends the American culture and democracy

(b) criticises the American social and political life

- aristocratic ideals: the American life should be led by an elite minority, democracy should be in the possibility of social mobility

C o n t r i b u t i o n :

- the first to define native themes, settings, and characters

- launched distinct genres in American fiction: the American novel of manners, the sea novel, the European-American novel, and the novel of the mythic frontier

- opened new territories for American fiction: the nation’s past, frontier, and life at sea


(Picture: Wikimedia Commons).

  • Author

    James Fenimore Cooper. (1789 - 1851). American.
  • Work

    Novelist. Critic. Author of The Last of the Mohicans (1826).
  • Genres

    Romanticism. Adventure novel. Novel of the frontier. Sea novel. Critical writing.


Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.

Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American  Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.

Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.

McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.

Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od  puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.

Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.

His Sea Novels

The Pilot (1824)

The Red Rover (1828)

The Water Witch (1830)

His Criticism

Notions of the Americans (1828)

Gleanings in Europe (1836 - 1838)

The American Democrat (1838)

Homeward Bound (1838)

Home as Found (1838)


"The Leatherstocking novels go backwards from old age to golden youth. That is the true myth of America. She starts old, wrinkled and writhing in an old skin. And there is gradual sloughing off of the old skin, toward a new youth. It is the myth of America."

D. H. Lawrence about Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales.


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