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The American Romantic Movement

James Fenimore Cooper
Edgar Allan Poe
Henry David Thoreau
Harriot Beecher Stowe
Walt Whitman
Emily Dickinson
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Margaret Fuller
Herman Melville
James Fenimore Cooper
Washington Irving

“Few men exhibit greater diversity, or, if we may so express it, greater antithesis of character than the native warrior of North America. In war, he is daring, boastful, cunning, ruthless, self-denying, and self-devoted; in peace, just, generous, hospitable, revengeful, superstitious, modest, and commonly chaste.”

His most famous work

Scene from The Last of the Mohicans

Cooper portrait by John Wesley Jarvis, 1822
Biographical Information: James Fenimore Cooper’s writing was based on an un-rivaled love of the land, born in 1789, his family moved to a small town in northern New York, this town was named Cooperstown and it had been founded by his father. From the beginning this frontier life-style was a large influence on Cooper, nature was his muse. In fact, it was such a big influence that most of his novels are based in this region. However, his life did not go straight to the page, he attended Yale for three years before he was dismissed for disciplinary reasons. Following that he spent several years in the Navy, he served as a mid-shipman until his term ended in 1811. He then decided to get married and lived off the land as a farmer for several years following. He published his first novel in 1820 basically on a bet from his wife), the result, Precaution, was fairly well received but is considered a direct descendant of the works of Jane Austen and other such English works of that time period. Following that he began to hit his stride, publishing The Spy, just one year latter. This, although not exactly an American Original either, was much better received and served to jump start his literary career. In 1823 James Fenimore Cooper wrote the first of what is considered the most important group of works in his career, The Pioneers, a novel that was part of the famous Leatherstocking Tales, it introduced the literary community not only to the greatest character name of all time, Natty Bumppo, it also introduced the entire world to American romanticism. The focus of these novels is about man and nature, the individual and his interactions with nature, which is one of the basic principles of romanticism. Three years after The Pioneers, he published The Pilot, and thus solidified his reputation as the first great truly American novelist and Romantic. That same year Cooper moved to France as a diplomat, he spent the next several years in Europe continuing to publish his works and occasionally putting out another Leatherstocking Tale, which are The Deerslayer published in 1841, The Last of the Mohicans, from 1826, The Pathfinder, of 1840, The Pioneers from 1823, and The Prairie, from 1827. These novels above all of his other over fifty works spanning his thirty year literary career, embrace American Romanticism, they are full of life and spirit, they hold within them the individuality of man and the conflict and occasional catharsis between mankind’s spirit and the spirit of nature Upon his return to the United States he would publish several more works and continue to be well regarded and respected as one of the original truly American Novelists. Connections to Romanticism: James Fenimore Cooper falls into the group of Romantics characterized as historical fiction; his works are fictional accounts of true life events taking place in the world in the 18th and 19th centuries. His most well known and well regarded contemporary is Nathanial Hawthorne all they wrote about very different things. Cooper fell directly into the time period of American Romanticism, publishing his first novel eight years before it’s generally accepted beginning in 1828 and passing away less then fifteen years before the end of the era. Through-out all of his works one sees a devout following of some of the key romantic principles. He was a huge believer in the spirit of nature and the accord between man and nature. We find his most famous and interesting characters in love with nature and constantly inside of it. Natty Bumppo is a frontiersman, who is forced to leave New York by the end of The Leatherstocking Tales because the nature there is diminishing and he is forced to go in search of more of it. His character, Chingachcook is the perfect example of the “Nobel Savage” an Indian with incredible morals and values. He says in The Last of the Mohicans, “Few men exhibit greater diversity…or a greater antithesis of character then the Native warrior of North America. In war, daring…cunning, self-denying, in peace, just, generous, hospitable…and modest…”(Kirjasto). Cooper is obviously also a believer that what is inside of a person is more important then what is outside, he speaks of the natives as true people with the same character and flaws as the other characters as opposed to just savages. It is also apparent that Cooper found his inspiration in nature, he lived on Lake Champlain for much of his life and wrote about the area as much as he wrote about people, it is the setting for most of his major works. He was in love with nature, he loved the sea and he loved the land all of these things nourished his soul and made him a better writer. We see how he contrasts life in nature with life in society when he has Natty holed up in a fort in the pathfinder and then switches him out to the woods, we see how unnatural he considers society and how dangerous he thinks it can be. He was also a huge believer in the rights of the individual. All of his characters are individuals fighting faceless hordes representing societies. Natty is the ultimate individual, a man who lives alone with the Indians and shuns society was a rare occurrence in the 1800’s. He is always trying to make the reader connect with nature, he describes the land beautifully and helps the reader feel the freshness of nature and what it means to him. He was also known to favor the grotesque over the classical, it is un-likely the brutal descriptions of battles and scalpings fit well into the classical Victorian English literary tradition. And most of all he beliefs in the ability for man to become whole and perfect through organic means, he believes that with the help of the natural world and its true inhabitants and individuals, man-kind’s spirit can be perfected.There are some other traits that he embodies as well, English Romanticism is based on the abolishment of “poetic diction” and that is what Cooper did, he did not write in the stilted styles off the time as much as most other writers in the eighteenth century. He was obviously not the perfect romantic, he does not meet all of the guidelines, but he is possibly the first American Romantic. Latter in life he became interested in politics, he started to write essays on the rights of property holders, especially when he got involved in several civil suitsThere is one definitive standard for what literary movement someone fits into ) that is “What sets that persons thoughts to boiling” and so we consider that for all of the romantics. For Emerson it was nature and individuality, where as for Thoreau it was nature and isolation, through these benchmarks we look at Cooper and ask ourselves, what set his water to boil? The answer? Nature and the “Nobel Savage” their was nothing more inspirational to his literary career then his early life in frontier New York and his experiences with different cultures.
Works of James Fenimore Cooper: Fiction • 1820 Precaution: A Novel.. • 1821 The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground. • 1823 Tales for Fifteen, • 1823 The Pioneers: or, The Sources of the Susquehanna. • 1823 The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea. • 1825 Lionel Lincoln; or, The Leaguer of Boston. • 1826 The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 • 1827 The Prairie • 1828 The Red Rover • 1829 The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish. • 1830 The Water-Witch; or, The Skimmer of the Seas. • 1831 The Bravo. • 1832 The Heidenmauer; or, The Benedictines, A Legend of the Rhine. • 1833 The Headsman; or, The Abbaye des Vignerons. • 1835 The Monikins. • 1838 Homeward Bound; or, The Chase: A Tale of the Sea. • 1838 Home as Found. • 1840 The Pathfinder; or, The Inland Sea.. • 1840 Mercedes of Castile; or, The Voyage to Cathay. • 1841 The Deerslayer; or, The First War-Path. • 1842 The Two Admirals. • 1842 The Wing-and-Wing; or, Le Feu-Follet. • 1843 Wyandotté; or, The Hutted Knoll. • 1843 Autobiography of a Pocket-Handerchief. • 1844 Afloat and Ashore; or, The Adventures of Miles Wallingford. • 1844 Miles Wallingford.. • 1845 Satanstoe; or, The Littlepage Manuscripts: A Tale of the Colony. • 1845 The Chainbearer; or, The Littlepage Manuscripts • 1846 The Redskins; or, Indian and Injin: Being the Conclusion of the Littlepage Manuscripts. • 1847 The Crater; or, Vulcan's Peak: A Tale of the Pacific • 1848 Jack Tier; or, The Florida Reef. • 1848 The Oak Openings; or, The Bee-Hunter. • 1849 The Sea Lions; or, The Lost Sealers. • 1850 The Ways of the Hour. • 1850 Upside Down; or Philosophy in Petticoats • 1850 The Lake Gun. Non-fiction • 1820-1822 Early Critical Essays • 1828 Notions of the Americans: Picked up by a Travelling Bachelor • 1830 Letter to General Lafayette. • [ca. 1834] The Eclipse. • 1836 Sketches of Switzerland • 1836 Sketches of Switzerland, Part Second • 1837 Gleanings in Europe. • 1837 Gleanings in Europe: England. • 1838 Gleanings in Europe: Italy. • 1838 The American Democrat: or, Hints on the Social and Civic Relations of the United States of America. 1838 The Chronicles of Cooperstown • 1839 The History of the Navy of the United States of America 1839 Old Ironsides. • 1843 Ned Myers; or, A Life Before the Mast. • 1846 Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers. • [1851] New York; or, The Towns of Manhattan


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