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Fenimore Cooper: A Study of His Life and Imagination

Fenimore Cooper: A Study of His Life and Imagination

Copyright Date: 1978
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Fenimore Cooper: A Study of His Life and Imagination
    Book Description:

    The oddly diverse character of James Fenimore Cooper's writings and activities has led many critics to view his career as fragmentary. Stephen Railton takes a psychoanalytic approach to the novelist's most important works and the most significant events in his life. By showing how the aesthetic struggle to create reflected attempts to reconcile conflicting emotional needs, the author is able to provide a much-needed coherent interpretation of Cooper's achievement. Professor Railton's analysis shows that an awareness of the extent to which Cooper's father dominated his life is central to an understanding of his novels and his often contradictory behavior.

    Originally published in 1978.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7081-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. DEBTS
    (pp. xvii-1)
    (pp. 2-2)
    (pp. 3-36)

    In many respects Cooper was the founding father of the novel in America. Although other writers had earlier aspired to the role, he was the first popularly successful American novelist, the first in the land of opportunity to prove that fiction could afford a citizen of the republic with a career. The imaginative debt that such minor nineteenth century novelists as Simms and Stowe owed to Cooper is obvious, and in general popular fiction remained in the mold that Cooper had shaped for it until after the Civil War. Yet it is equally true to say that Cooper first established...

    (pp. 37-74)

    There is one story about Cooper that everyone tells, though he himself never did. According to Cooper, he became an author by “accident”—“circumstances of an entirely adventitious nature, induced [him] to publish a novel.”¹ Nobody’s biographer could easily be satisfied with such an empty explanation, and Cooper’s would be especially unhappy with it, for if not entirely adventitious, the novelist’s eventual choice of a literary career could not have been predicted. Luckily, the student of Cooper’s life has at his disposal a fuller, more attractive account of the circumstances. According to his daughter Susan, the original source of the...

    (pp. 75-113)

    Cooper’s third novel,The Pioneers,deserves to be closely looked at for several reasons. Many students of Cooper, including myself, consider it his best book, which is perhaps another way of saying that of all his novels, this one can be recommended to an intelligent modern reader with the fewest reservations and explanations. It is the earliest tale about populating the wilderness, an issue Cooper dealt with again and again throughout his career. Six of his subsequent novels were actually sequels toThe Pioneers.In order of composition, it is the first of the five Leather-Stocking Tales; in it Natty...

    (pp. 114-146)

    “Not an incident of the Pioneers, that I can recall, ever occurred,” wrote Cooper inBrother Jonathan(L/J, IV, 254). But his recollection, coerced by his desire to repudiate the novel’s latent meaning, was faulty—many specific episodes, including important ones like the forest fire and minor ones like the arrest of a gang of counterfeiters, were part of Cooperstown’s history before they became part of Templeton’s. The two most important events in the novel, in terms of both its plot and Cooper’s psychic involvement with it, are the fictional rebellion against the Judge’s rule and the imaginative creation of...

    (pp. 147-193)

    Cooper left Europe in September 1833. Forty-four years old, he had never been more doubtful about his future. As an author he did not think of himself as a craftsman religiously dedicated to aesthetic perfection, for whom solitude or exile were favorable, in a sense requisite, to his task, but as a storyteller whose first need was an audience to listen to his stories. During the 1820s Cooper was perfectly content with his role; his sense of himself coincided with that of his readers—he wanted to be an American novelist, to represent America in the world, wanted especially to...

    (pp. 194-221)

    One of the lies often printed by Cooper’s newspaper critics was that he had abused America in the Effingham Novels in order to insure their sale in Great Britain. Apparently the editors believed this. Richard Bentley, Cooper’s English publisher, knew better. The novelist’s work as a social commentator appealed only to himself; his readers, whether English or American, bought his books with different expectations, and lately they had not been buying his books at all. Bentley also knew what those readers wanted. On April 6th, 1839, he wrote Cooper:

    I wish I could persuade you to undertake a naval story...

    (pp. 222-258)

    Today almost no one reads Fenimore Cooper, not even the boys. The image of Natty Bumppo has passed into our culture, but his actual presence in the Tales is seldom encountered. There are several reasons for this neglect, for the dust that the five Leather-stocking books are gathering on library shelves and in attics. Cooper’s style is archaic. The literary conventions he subscribed to have largely passed out of favor. His narrative pacing cannot compete with television’s. Yet I suspect that the chief cause of Cooper’s unpopularity is the fact that the present generation of children does not need to...

    (pp. 259-278)

    As a polemicist and controversialist Cooper often wrote about the details of his public life. As a novelist he often exploited portions of his personal experience. But only once did he set down a piece of pure autobiography. “The Eclipse” is an eight page article which recounts Cooper’s recollections of the total eclipse of the sun on June 16th, 1806. Dating its composition requires some conjecture. Susan Fenimore Cooper, who discovered “The Eclipse” among her father’s papers after his death, is certain that it was written “at the request of an English friend,” and believes that it “must have been...

  14. INDEX
    (pp. 279-282)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-283)