James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper

Excerpt

This book intends quite frankly to state the case for James Fenimore Cooper. It agrees with Marius Bewley that Cooper has long been undervalued as an artist, and with Charles A. Brady that his case should be reopened and judged once again. Thus, although it recognizes his well-known faults and failures, it chooses not to emphasize them, but to stress instead the thematic interpretation of his tales and the means, sometimes highly successful, by which he gave his themes expression. It asks the reader, therefore, to lay aside his preconceptions, to see the novels in their own terms, and to seek the meaning that they, like all works of literary art, will yield if carefully read for themselves alone. The purpose is to understand the tales that they may be evaluated in the light of that knowledge.

For this reason, I have severely limited the amount of biographical and historical information contained in this book. I have included only that which is necessary for continuity and for an understanding of the background and subject matter of particular novels. It is the tales themselves that are important today, if Cooper is to be studied at all; and I do not want to interpose too much material between the reader and the direct perception of Cooper's art. The space devoted to particular tales has been deliberately apportioned to draw attention to many of Cooper's late novels which deserve to be better known, and which must figure at least as largely as his early work in any just evaluation of his achievement.

Several of the conclusions presented here I have already expressed in completely different form in PMLA, American Literature, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, and Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters. For permission to rework some of the material used in these articles, I am grateful to the editors of the aforementioned journals, to The Regents of the University of California, and to Mr. Fred Wieck, Director of the University of Michigan Press.

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