James Fenimore Cooper (September 15, 1789 – September 14, 1851) was a prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century. He is best remembered as a novelist who wrote numerous sea-stories and the historical novels known as the Leatherstocking Tales, featuring frontiersman Natty Bumppo. Among his most famous works is the Romantic novel The Last of the Mohicans, often regarded as his masterpiece.
Legacy and criticism
Cooper was one of the most popular 19th century American authors, and his work was admired greatly throughout the world. While on his death bed, the Austrian composer Franz Schubert wanted most to read more of Cooper's novels. Honoré de Balzac, the French novelist and playwright, admired him greatly. Cooper's stories have been translated into nearly all the languages of Europe and into some of those of Asia.
Though some scholars may dispute Cooper being classified as a Romantic, Victor Hugo pronounced him greater than the great master of modern romance, and this verdict was echoed by a multitude of less famous readers who were satisfied with no title for their favorite less than that of the "American Scott.” He was most memorably criticized by Mark Twain whose vicious and amusing review is still read widely in academic circles. Twain's essay, Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses (1895), particularly criticized The Deerslayer and The Pathfinder. Twain wrote at the beginning of the essay: "In one place in Deerslayer, and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record. "Twain listed 19 rules "governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction," 18 of which Cooper violates in The Deerslayer.
His reputation today rests upon the five Leatherstocking tales and some of the maritime stories. His presentation of race relations and native Americans has generated much comment, not all of it sympathetic.
Cooper was also criticized heavily for his depiction of women characters in his work. James Russell Lowell, Cooper's contemporary and a critic, referred to it poetically in A Fable for Critics, writing, ". . . the women he draws from one model don't vary / All sappy as maples and flat as a prairie."
Three dining halls at the State University of New York at Oswego are named in Cooper's remembrance (Cooper Hall, The Pathfinder, and Littlepage) because of his temporary residence in Oswego and for setting some of his works there.
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