Ondertexts
James Fenimore Cooper
Search

James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper James Fenimore Cooper[1†]

James Fenimore Cooper (September 15, 1789 – September 14, 1851) was an American writer of the first half of the 19th century[1†]. Born in Burlington, New Jersey, Cooper was the eleventh of 12 children[1†]. He is considered America’s first major novelist[1†][2†][1†]. His historical romances depicting colonial and indigenous characters from the 17th to the 19th centuries brought him fame and fortune[1†].

Early Years and Education

James Fenimore Cooper was born on September 15, 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey[2†][3†]. He was the eleventh of twelve children born to William Cooper and Elizabeth Cooper[2†][3†]. His father was a United States Congressman[2†][3†]. Many of his siblings died during infancy or childhood[2†][3†]. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Cooperstown, New York[2†][3†].

Cooper’s mother, Elizabeth Fenimore, was a member of a respectable New Jersey Quaker family, and his father, William, founded a frontier settlement at the source of the Susquehanna River (now Cooperstown, New York) and served as a Federalist congressman during the administrations of George Washington and John Adams[2†]. This rich family background provided a conducive environment for Cooper’s intellectual growth.

Cooper started his formal education at a boarding school in Albany[2†][4†]. After graduating from the school at the age of thirteen, he joined Yale[2†][4†]. However, his time at Yale was cut short as he was expelled in his third year due to a prank[2†][4†]. This incident marked the end of his formal education.

At the age of seventeen, Cooper started working as a sailor[2†][4†]. In 1806, he joined the crew of a merchant vessel[2†][3†]. A few years later, he was made a midshipman in the U.S. Navy[2†][3†]. These experiences at sea would later influence many of his works[2†].

Career Development and Achievements

James Fenimore Cooper’s career began in the U.S. Navy, where he served as a midshipman[1†][5†]. His experiences in the navy greatly influenced many of his novels[1†][5†].

Cooper’s writing career was launched with the publication of his novel “The Spy” in 1821[1†]. This tale about espionage set during the American Revolutionary War marked the beginning of his journey as a novelist[1†]. He also created American sea stories[1†].

His best-known works are the five historical novels of the frontier period, known as the Leatherstocking Tales[1†][2†][1†]. These novels introduced the iconic American frontier scout, Natty Bumppo, or Hawkeye[1†][2†][1†]. The series consists of “The Pioneers” (1823), “The Last of the Mohicans” (1826), “The Prairie” (1827), “The Pathfinder” (1840), and “The Deerslayer” (1841)[1†][2†][1†].

From 1826 to 1833, Cooper lived in Europe, where he wrote romances and books about democracy, politics, and society[1†][6†]. During this time, he served as the U.S. consul at Lyons and traveled around the Continent[1†][6†]. He became friends with Sir Walter Scott and the Marquis de Lafayette, who partly inspired his essay “Notions of America” (1828)[1†][6†].

Cooper’s works on the U.S. Navy have been well received among naval historians[1†]. However, they were sometimes criticized by his contemporaries[1†]. His novel “The Last of the Mohicans” is often regarded as his masterpiece[1†].

Throughout his career, Cooper published numerous social, political, and historical works of fiction and non-fiction[1†]. His objective was to counter European prejudices and nurture an original American art and culture[1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

James Fenimore Cooper was a prolific writer, producing works almost every year from 1820 until his death in 1851[7†]. His novels were often influenced by his years spent in the U.S. Navy[7†]. Here are some of his main works along with their first year of publication:

Cooper’s novels often depicted frontier adventure and were known as the Leatherstocking Tales[7†][2†][7†]. The series featured the wilderness scout called Natty Bumppo, or Hawkeye[7†][2†][7†]. His works significantly contributed to the development of a unique American art and culture[7†].

Analysis and Evaluation

James Fenimore Cooper’s works have had a significant impact on American literature. He was one of the earliest exponents of several subgenres of the novel, including the spy novel, the sea novel, and the novel of political satire[8†]. His works often depicted frontier adventure and were known as the Leatherstocking Tales[8†][2†]. The series featured the wilderness scout called Natty Bumppo, or Hawkeye[8†][2†].

Cooper’s novels often reflected changes in American society over several decades[8†]. His detailed and accurate depictions of major aspects of American society and thought in the early nineteenth century have led to him being recognized as America’s first great social historian[8†].

His novel “The Spy,” launched his career and invented a popular genre, the spy novel[8†]. It achieved international reputation and was translated into most European languages soon after its publication[8†].

Cooper also tried his hand at short stories, biographies, and a play[8†]. Among these works, only the biographies are considered significant[8†]. He also wrote accounts of his European travels, history, and essays on politics and society[8†]. Among his political writings, “The American Democrat” (1838) retains its appeal as an analysis of contemporary political and social issues and as an expression of Cooper’s mature political and social thought[8†].

His “The History of the Navy of the United States of America” (1839, two volumes) is still considered a definitive work[8†]. Cooper was an active correspondent. Many of his letters and journals have been published, but large quantities of material remain in the hands of private collectors[8†].

Cooper’s works significantly contributed to the development of a unique American art and culture[8†][2†]. His romantic masterpiece, “The Last of the Mohicans,” is often regarded as his most notable work[8†][2†].

Personal Life

James Fenimore Cooper married Susan Augusta de Lancey in 1811, when he was just 21 years old[3†][9†]. Susan was a descendant of the early governors of the New York colony[3†][10†]. The couple had seven children, five of whom survived into adulthood[3†][9†]. Their first-born survivor, Susan Fenimore Cooper, followed in her father’s footsteps and became a writer and naturalist[3†][9†].

From a very young age, Cooper was a follower of the Episcopal Church and remained an active member throughout his life[3†]. He contributed generously to the church, particularly in the years leading up to his death[3†][1†].

After resigning his commission in the U.S. Navy in 1811, Cooper took up the life of a gentleman farmer[3†][10†]. He lived in Mamaroneck, New York, from 1811 to 1814, before moving to Cooperstown[3†][10†], a community founded by his father on a large piece of land he had bought for development[3†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

James Fenimore Cooper’s legacy is that of the first major American novelist[2†][1†]. His historical romances depicting colonial and indigenous characters from the 17th to the 19th centuries brought him fame and fortune[2†][1†]. He introduced the themes of the frontier, white/Indian conflict, and America’s westward expansion as proper subjects for literary works[2†][11†]. Perhaps even more importantly, he began to shape the romantic idea of the American West[2†][11†].

Cooper’s best-known works are five historical novels of the frontier period, known as the Leatherstocking Tales[2†][1†]. These novels introduced the iconic American frontier scout, Natty Bumppo[2†][1†]. Among his more famous works is the Romantic novel The Last of the Mohicans, often regarded as his masterpiece[2†][1†].

Throughout his career, Cooper published numerous social, political, and historical works of fiction and non-fiction with the objective of countering European prejudices and nurturing an original American art and culture[2†][1†]. His works on the U.S. Navy have been well received among naval historians[2†][1†].

Cooper’s father, the real estate speculator and developer, left both inspiring memories and the careless bookkeeping that would ultimately destroy his proud legacy[2†][12†]. This had a significant impact on Cooper’s life and work[2†][12†].

In conclusion, James Fenimore Cooper was a pioneering figure in American literature, whose novels of frontier life and adventure left a lasting imprint on the national consciousness[2†][6†]. His works continue to be read and studied as quintessential elements of American cultural heritage[2†][1†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - James Fenimore Cooper [website] - link
  2. Britannica - James Fenimore Cooper: American author [website] - link
  3. The Famous People - James Fenimore Cooper Biography [website] - link
  4. Literary Devices - James Fenimore Cooper [website] - link
  5. Annenberg Learner - James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) [website] - link
  6. American Society of Authors and Writers - James Fennimore Cooper [website] - link
  7. ThoughtCo - List of Works by James Fenimore Cooper [website] - link
  8. eNotes - James Fenimore Cooper Analysis [website] - link
  9. Simple Wikipedia (English) - James Fenimore Cooper [website] - link
  10. American Society of Authors and Writers - James Fennimore Cooper [website] - link
  11. Encyclopedia.com - Cooper, James Fenimore [website] - link
  12. eNotes - James Fenimore Cooper Summary [website] - link
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0; additional terms may apply.
Ondertexts® is a registered trademark of Ondertexts Foundation, a non-profit organization.