James Fenimore Cooper
About the Author
First major American novelist, best known for his tales of frontier adventure, among them The Last of the Mohicans (1826), an adventure story set in the Lake Champlain. It has been filmed several times, among others in 1936 and 1992. Through his Leatherstocking series Cooper created the archetype of the 18th-century frontiersman, Natty Bumppo. He lives free, close to nature, while the settlers bring 'civilization' that destroys the wilderness.
Cooper was born at Burlington, New Jersey, as the son of Quakers, Judge William Cooper and Elisabeth Fenimore Cooper. His father was a representantive of the 4th and 6th Congress, and had attained wealth by developing virgin land. The family moved to Cooperstown, New York, which Judge Cooper had founded. James Fenimore spent his youth partly on the family estate on Otsego Lake. He was educated in the village school at Cooperstown, and in 1800-02 in the household of the rector of St. Peter's.
In his junior year Cooper was expelled from Yale because of a series of pranks, which included training a donkey to sit in a professor's chair. Encouraged by his father, Cooper joined the Navy and served on the Sterling, 1806-07. On his return to the United States, he received a warrant as a midshipman. In 1808 he served on the Vesuvius and on the Wasp in the Atlantic in 1809. Upon his father's death in 1809, Cooper became financially independent. He resigned comission in 1811 and married Susan Augusta De Lancey, who was a descendend from the early governors of New York colony.
From the early 1810s Cooper took up the comfortable life of a gentleman farmer. He lived in Mamaroneck, New York from 1811 to 1814, then in Cooperstown, and from 1817 to 1821 in Scarsdale, New York. A change of fortune connected with his father's estate ended the Coopers rural idyl. He settled in Westchester, living on his wife's land. When his wife challenged him to write a book better than the one Cooper was reading, he began his literary career.
Cooper's first novel Precaution (1820) was an imitation of Jane Austen's novels and a failure. His second, The Spy (1821), was based on Sir Walter Scott's Waverly series, and told an adventure tale about the American Revolution. It brought him fame and wealth and Cooper gave up farming. Scott inspired Cooper to draw stereotypes of light and dark, good and evil, and dichotomize the female into the fair and pure and the dark and tainted. In 1823 appeared The Pioneers, and started his 'Leatherstocking series'. They depicted the adventures of Natty Bumppo, also called Leatherstocking or Hawkeye, and his Indian companion Chingachgook. The novels were not written in the chronological order. They included such classics as The Deerslayer (1841), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Pathfinder (1840), and The Prairie (1827).
Cooper had the idea of transporting Leatherstocking to the Far West while he was writing The Last of the Mohicans. He had read with care Major Stephen H. Long's account of his expedition up the Platte River. During the spring of 1826 or earlier he met a young Pawnee chief who became the model for Hard-Head in The Prairie. From the narrative of the Lewis and Clark expedition he took such names as Mahtoree and Weucha for Sioux chiefs. The character of Natty drew upon folk traditions of historical pioneers such as Daniel Boone. Natty's friendship with the Delaware chief Chingachgook established him as a mediating figure between the white, advancing settlers, and the threatened culture of the Native Americans.
In the beginning of the 1820s Cooper lived in New York City and participated in its intellectual life and politics. He wrote a series of sea adventures, starting from The Pilot (1824), the first American sea tale. It was followed by The Red Rover (1827), The Wing-and-Wing (1842), The Two Admirals (1842), Afloat and Ashore (1844), Miles Wallngford (1844), and The Sea Lions (1849).
From 1826 to 1833 Cooper lived in Europe, where he wrote romances and unsuccesfully books about democracy, politics, and society. He served as the US consul at Lyons and travelled a great deal. In Europe he became friends with Sir Walter Scott and Marquis de Lafayette, who partly inspired his essay Notions of America (1828).
During the last decades of his life Cooper was earning less from his books but was forced to go on writing for income. In 1833 Cooper returned to the Unites States, living first in New York City and then in Cooperstown. Feeling treated ill by journalist, he fought against press with libel suits, winning most of his cases. However, especially his carelessness was open to such critic as presented by Mark Twain in his essay Fenomore Cooper's Literary Offenses (1895). His later works include Satanstoe (1845), a historical novel of manners, The Chainbearer (1845), and The Red-Skins (1846), which form the trilogy called 'The Littlepage Manuscripts'. The novels deal with the antirent controversy and its historical background. Cooper defended in the work the landlords' rights - the tenants of the New York had refused to pay rent and the author saw in the controversy a crisis in American democracy. In The American Democrat Cooper also expressed his political and social views. Cooper died at Otsego Hall, on September 14, 1851.
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