By the time The Last of the Mohicans was published in 1826, Cooper was the leading literary figure in America—a financial, critical, and public success. Cooper, born in New Jersey in 1789, had been a novelist for just six years, finding his calling at age thirty after a five-year stint in the navy.
His early years were largely marked by the influence of his father. He was sent to Yale, from which he was expelled after allegedly blowing up another student's door with gunpowder. His father then enlisted him in the navy. After his father's death in 1810, Cooper resigned his post and married. For the next ten years he settled into the life of a Federalist gentleman, serving in the state militia and as secretary to both the Bible and Agricultural Societies. It was not until 1820, his fortunes flagging and his inheritance running out, that Cooper began his literary career. While reading a popular English novel of the day to his wife, Cooper remarked that he could do better. His wife took him up on the challenge.
Published anonymously, his first work, Precaution, a drawing-room-style English comedy, was received poorly. He followed it with The Spy, a historical romance set in the Revolutionary War, which sold well and established the American novel as a genre. It was to set the tone of his literary output. For the next seventeen years Cooper worked only within the genre of historical fiction.
In 1823, Cooper published The Pioneers, the first of the five books of the Leather-stocking tales, which introduced Natty Bumppo, the archetypal frontiersman. The book sold 3,500 copies on its first day. Next came The Pilot (1823). a work of historical nautical fiction, another genre that Cooper was to develop, laying the groundwork for Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
The Last of the Mohicans was published in 1826. Still the most widely-read of Cooper's works it finds Natty Bumppo in the prime of his life. In the same year Cooper and his family moved abroad, spending the next seven years in Europe. During that time, he published The Prairie (1827), a Leather-stocking tale about Bumppo at the end of his life, and The Red Rover, a work of nautical fiction. While abroad, Cooper became increasingly involved in politics, and began writing non-ficton as well as his novels, his first being Notions of the Americans (1828).
Upon returning home in 1833, he produced seven books (none fiction) in four years, four of them about European travel. In 1834, he and his family moved back to the family home in Cooperstown, New York, where he would spend the rest of his life. Cooper continued to produce both non-fiction and novels until his death in 1851, including the last two books of the five Leather-stocking tales, The Path-Finder (1840) and the Deer-Slayer (1841).
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