James Fenimore Cooper - Biography and Works

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), America's first significant novelist, was born as the son of Quakers, Judge William Cooper and Elisabeth Fenimore Cooper in New Jersey. During his youth, James stayed partly on the family estate on the shores of Otsego Lake. He used to roam in the forest and had developed a strong love of nature which later marked his books.

James Fenimore Cooper

Cooper was formally educated in the village school, and in 1800-02 in the household of the rector of St. Peter's. In his junior year, Cooper was mischievous enough that he was expelled from Yale because of a sequence of pranks he used to play with his classmates and also with the professor. Cooper joined the Navy and served on the Sterling from 1806 to 1807. His experiences in the sea later inspired his sea stories.

From the early 1811 to 1814 Cooper started living the comfortable life of a gentleman farmer in Mamaroneck, New York, and from 1817 to 1821 in Scarsdale, New York. He loved reading novels and one day when he had finished reading an English novel he claimed that he could write better than that. His wife inspired him to write and he set to work. Since then, his literary career started.

He set the tone and the scene for many other American novels. The scene he set include the temporal and geographical locales of colonial and revolutionary America, the frontier, and the sea. Almost all of his novels move round the tragic subject of the frontier and the noble but necessarily expendable frontiersman, Natty Bumpoo. Cooper has drawn many historical events and cast them into the mold of Romance. That is why he has been recognized as the writer of historical romances. Or the major conflicting event in the narrative of his romance can be grounded in the political history of the era in which he was writing. As a writer, he aimed at representing the lost folkish Native American ethos and spirit with the changing frontier scene, the proud Native American past, legend, myth and folkish elements were disappearing. So Cooper undertook the challenging task of capturing this lost mythic reality and the cultural ethos of native tribes in the narrative of historical romance. He uses the same character Natty Bumpoo with a variety of changing names in almost all his novel. Thus character Natty Bumpo is given plenty of different names like Deer slayer, Hawkeye, Pathfinder, Leather-Stocking, the trapper. Leather-stocking became the common name attached to the character and to the series of his five novels.

The idea of the frontier, the conflict between civilization and savagery and the colonial conflict between the French and English are frequently exploited substance that enters into the universe of Cooper narrative. To deal with the conflicting situation created by the confrontation between opposing values, forces, trends and cultures is the ultimate aim of Cooper. His novels draw its inspirational vigor from the vestige of sentimental and gothic novels. Though his novels is tied with the mythic dimension they are never far removed from historical reality. The romantic vein, he preferred enhanced the historically, partly subdued in the mythic dimension of reality.

In 1820, Cooper's first novel Precaution was published which was much more influenced by Jane Austen's novels. His second work, The Spy (1821) was set in Westchester Country and it was about the American Revolution. It was a great breakthrough for him which brought him name and fame. In 1823, The Pioneers was published in which he has depicted the frontier adventure and the pioneer life influenced by his twenty years of experience. His other famous works are The Deer Slayer, The Last of the Mohicans, The Pathfinder, and The Prairie (1827). He wrote a chain of sea adventures, starting from The Pilot (1824), a genuine American sea tale about the exploits of John Paul Jones. It was followed by The Red Rover (1827), The Wing and Wing (1842), The Two Admirals (1842), Afloat and Ashore (1844), Miles Wallingford (1844), and The Sea Lions (1849).

J. F. Cooper Study Center

The Last of the Mohicans (Novel)