James Fenimore Coope Criticism - Essay

James Fenimore Cooper (essay date 1849)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Spy, Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, 1849, pp. iii-vii.

[In the following introduction to The Spy, Cooper discusses the basis of the novel and the state of the union since the Revolutionary War.]

The author has often been asked if there were any foundation in real life for the delineation of the principal character in this book. He can give no clearer answer to the question than by laying before his readers a simple statement of the facts connected with its original publication.

Many years since, the writer of this volume was at the residence of an illustrious man, who had been employed in various situations of...

(The entire section is 1927 words.)

William Cullen Bryant (lecture date 1852)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Discourse on the Life, Genius, and Writings of J. Fenimore Cooper," in Precaution: A Novel by J. Fenimore Cooper, D. Appleton and Company, 1881, pp. v-xli.

[In the excerpt below, from the text of a lecture delivered in 1852 at a Public Memorial Meeting in honor of Cooper, Bryant surveys Cooper's career and assesses its significance.]

It is now somewhat more than a year since the friends of JAMES FENIMORE COOPER, in this city, were planning to give a public dinner in his honor. It was intended as an expression both of the regard they bore him personally, and of the pride they took in the glory his writings had reflected on the American name. We thought of what...

(The entire section is 10957 words.)

Thomas R. Lounsbury (essay date 1883)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "1850-1851," in James Fenimore Cooper, Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1883, pp. 265-89.

[In the following excerpt, Lounsbury assesses the positive and negative characteristics of Cooper's writing.]

More than sixty years have gone by since Cooper began to write; more than thirty since he ceased to live. If his reputation has not advanced during the period that has passed since his death, it has certainly not receded. Nor does it seem likely to undergo much change in the future. The world has pretty well made up its mind as to the value of his work. The estimate in which it is held will not be materially raised or lowered by anything which criticism can now utter....

(The entire section is 6158 words.)

Mark Twain (essay date 1895)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fenimore Cooper's Further Literary Offenses," in The New England Quarterly, Vol. XIX, No. 3, September, 1946, pp. 291-301.

[In the following essay, originally composed in 1895, Twain criticizes Cooper for his inflexible style and verbosity.]

Young Gentlemen: In studying Cooper you still find it profitable to study him in detail—word by word, sentence by sentence. For every sentence of his is interesting. Interesting because of its make-up, its peculiar make-up, its original make-up. Let us examine a sentence or two, and see. Here is a passage from Chapter XI of The Last of the Mohicans one of the most famous and most admired of Cooper's...

(The entire section is 3235 words.)

C. Hartley Grattan (essay date 1925)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Note on Fenimore Cooper," in The Double Dealer, Vol. 7, No. 45, July, 1925, pp. 219-22.

[In the following essay, Grattan considers Cooper to be an overrated writer who is remembered today mostly for his personality rather than his writings.]

Among all the figures in American literature who have lately been under critical fire, Cooper has suffered as little as any. A curious chapter indeed could be written on the antics critics have gone through in swallowing him. Such a situation is not astonishing in the light of a knowledge of the dominant critics but it is astonishing to find so keen a man as Van Wyck Brooks concluding "the characters of Cooper lighted up...

(The entire section is 2007 words.)

Van Wyck Brooks (essay date 1944)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Cooper: The First Phase," in The World of Washington Irving, E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1944, pp. 167-82.

[In the following essay, Brooks discusses the influence of the sea on Cooper's early fiction.]

While Irving was exploring England, another New Yorker, six years younger, who had served for a while in the navy after going to Yale, had married and settled in Westchester county, where he lived as a country gentleman without so much as a thought of writing a book. In 1819, James Fenimore Cooper was thirty years old, and he was looking forward to a farmer's life, planting trees at Angevine, the house he had built at Scarsdale, grading his lawns, building...

(The entire section is 5594 words.)

James Grossman (essay date 1950)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Chapter IX," in James Fenimore Cooper, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1950, pp. 221-64.

[In the following essay, Grossman discusses Cooper's political views and the influence of European values on his writings.]

Cooper's literary career, beginning haphazardly without conscious preparation or plan and advancing rapidly to world fame, in its apparently eccentric course from the time of the European experience onward touches on almost every situation that can confront the American writer or that criticism insists on confronting him with. The questions so often argued since are thoroughly argued in Cooper's work and in contemporary criticism of it: whether an American...

(The entire section is 2396 words.)

John P. McWilliams (essay date 1985)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Red Satan: Cooper and the American Indian Epic," in James Fenimore Cooper: New Critical Essays, edited by Robert Clark, Vision and Barnes & Noble, 1985, pp. 143-61.

[In the following essay, McWilliams contends that Cooper failed to employ the epic and romantic imagery that his contemporaries used to describe American Indians.]

Americans who first conceived of heroic historical romance about the American Indian may have lacked facts about the red man, but they were familiar with conflicting preconceptions of him. Cooper, Bird, and Simms had all read historical sources which portrayed Indians as Homeric warriors living on in the American forest. They were...

(The entire section is 5971 words.)

Russell Kirk (essay date 1987)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Liberal Conservatives: Macaulay, Cooper, Tocqueville," in The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, revised edition, Regnery Books, 1987, pp. 185-204.

[In the following excerpt, Kirk discusses Cooper's political views, especially how his aristocratic sympathies shaped his views on democracy.]

In Democracies there is a besetting disposition to make publick opinion stronger than the law. This is the particular form in which tyranny exhibits itself in a popular government; for wherever there is power, there will be found a disposition to abuse it. Whoever opposes the interests, or wishes of the publick, however right in principle, or...

(The entire section is 2809 words.)

Charles Hansford Adams (essay date 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "'A Parental Affection': Law and Identity in Cooper's America," in "The Guardian of the Law": Authority and Identity in James Fenimore Cooper, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990, pp. 1-24.

[In the following essay, Adams contends that Cooper was ambivalent toward the law in America because he "was impelled to believeemotionally and intellectuallyin the law's ability to achieve both social and individual integrity by the same set of historical and psychological conditions that encouraged him to reject the law as divisive. "]


Early in The Prairie, deep in the long night that opens the novel,...

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