James Fenimore Cooper (Magill's Literary Annual 2008)
After Mark Twain’s derisive essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences” (1895), is it still possible to take America’s first major novelist seriously? In only two-thirds of a page of The Deerslayer (1841), according to Twain, Cooper committed 114 offenses against literary art; the novel was “a literary delirium tremens.” Of course, Twain exploited the humorous possibilities of exaggeration in his essay, and most literary historians think his literary criticism is as unfair as his satire is amusing. However, as Wayne Franklin notes in James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years, the first volume of a projected two-volume comprehensive biography, such judgments have had lasting detrimental effects on this early American novelist’s reputation. Franklin’s purpose as the first biographer having access to the complete Cooper papers is to provide long-missing information and overdue correctives to false impressions. In the process of writing this book, he discovers not only a novelist of considerable significance but also a representative man of his time.
Part of the fault for misunderstandings of Cooper lies with the novelist himself, and his family. They were reluctant to allow biographers access to his life. He was a controversial political figure, often attacked by newspapers sympathetic to the Whig Party; rightly or wrongly, he thought that limiting access to archival material after his death would protect his loved...
(The entire section is 1596 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2008)
Booklist 103, nos.19/20 (June 1, 2007): 26.
Library Journal 132, no. 12 (July 1, 2007): 92.
The New Republic 237, no. 7 (October 8, 2007): 61-63.
The Times Literary Supplement, December 21, 2007, pp. 14-15.
Weekly Standard 13, no. 13 (December 10, 2007): 42.
(The entire section is 24 words.)