American Literature, American Culture

By Gordon Hutner | Go to book overview

"imbecility"; "eyes," for "sight"; "counteracting," for "opposing"; "funeral obsequies," for "obsequies."

There have been daring people in the world who claimed that Cooper could write English, but they are all dead now--all dead but Lounsbury. I don't remember that Lounsbury makes the claim in so many words, still he makes it, for he says that Deerslayer is a "pure work of art." Pure, in that connection, means faultless--faultless in all details--and language is a detail. If Mr. Lounsbury had only compared Cooper's English with the English which he writes himself--but it is plain chat he didn't; and so it is likely that he imagines until this day that Cooper's is as clean and compact as his own. Now I feel sure, deep down in my heart, that Cooper wrote about the poorest English that exists in our language, and that the English of Deerslayer is the very worst that even Cooper ever wrote.

I may be mistaken, but it does seem to me that Deerslayer is not a work of art in any sense; it does seem to me that it is destitute of every detail that goes to the making of a work of art; in truth, it seems to me that Deerslayer is just simply a literary delirium tremens.

A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are--oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.

Counting these out, what is left is Art. I think we must all admit that. [ 1895]

William De Forest


The Great American Novel

A FRIEND of ours, a fairly clever person, and by no means lacking in common sense on common subjects, has the craze in his head that he will some day write a great American novel.

"If I can do it," he says, "I shall perform a national service, and be hailed as a national benefactor. It will be acknowledged that I have broken another of the bonds which make us spiritually colonists and provincials. Who does not like to have his portrait taken? If I ever can give expression to the idea which is in my brain, the American people will say, 'That is my picture,' and will lavish heart and pocket in remuneration. It is a feat worthy of vast labor and suffering."

During eight or ten years he has struggled for his prize. He has published two or three experiments which have been more or less well spoken of by the critics, and rather more than less neglected by the purchasing public. Now and then, collared by the material necessities of life, or by some national enthusiasm even stronger than his own, he has turned aside into other pursuits, has fought at the front, has aided in the work of reconstruction, has written articles and other things which he calls trivialities. But at every leisure moment he returns to his ideal producing "the Great American Novel."

Will he produce it? Will any one of this generation produce it? It is very doubtful, for

-155-

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