James Fenimore Cooper, a renowned social critic and novelist, was born on 15th September 1789 in Burlington, New Jersey, to William Cooper, a political activist, and Elizabeth, a housewife. Soon after James’s birth, the family moved to Lake Otsego in upstate New York, where his father found a new settlement, “ Cooperstown.” James spent his early years in that town, which he later fictionalized in his first novel, Pioneers.
James started his formal education at a boarding school in Albany. After graduating from the school at the age of thirteen, he joined Yale. Later he was expelled from the university in his third year without completing his degree. At seventeen, he started working as a sailor. Soon he joined the crew of a merchant’s vessel. He worked so hard that in a few years he achieved a good rank in the American Navy. Although James Cooper obtained less formal education, his travels to distant places, his father’s political views, and his interest in literature shaped his writing career.
After inheriting a good fortune from his father at twenty, James married De Lancey, a noble French lady, in 1811. The couple enjoyed the bliss of life together and their marriage produced seven children. His wife and children became the driving force behind his writing career as he started writing fiction for them and did wonders in his life.
Some Important Facts about Him
- He is widely known due to his works, The Pioneers and The Piolet.
- He was honored with a commemorative stamp issued in 1940 and was also elected into the National Academy of Design as an Honorary Academician.
- After enjoying fame and watching the zenith of his success, this literary genius died on the 14th of September in 1851. He was laid to rest at Christ Episcopal Churchyard with his father.
- On account of his literary services, he was inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame in 2013.
James Cooper’s first fictional work, Precaution, was the product of the challenge he received from his wife. In his first attempt, he tried to outdo the English domestic approach of writing fiction by choosing limited themes, manners, and styles. However, his second attempt, The Spy, presents us with various subjects, historical romance, and fictional models. His literary career can be divided into three different periods, wherein the first period, he primarily focused on Native American life and Life on the sea. The first period of his writing includes The Last of the Mohicans, The Prairie, The Red Rover, The Sea and The Water Witch. During the second period, he focused on social and political criticism, both in fiction and nonfictional writings, political allegories, biographies, and history. However, the last period of his writing sheds light on his own experiences, which he documented in his works, The Pathfinder and The Two Admirals and Wing-and-Wing.
James Cooper is known as the romantic writer of his age. His writings emphasize natural beauty, individuality, reliance on emotions, and the inherent goodness of humanity. To catch his readers’ attention, he uses suspense, surprise, mistakes, bad and good luck of his characters, and close brushes with accidents and disasters. To spin the story according to his reader’s interest, he used figurative language, sensory diction, and an appealing tone. His writings carry varied themes from history to art, culture, life, and romance. Other techniques that he used in his works include disguises, chase, and pursuit, characterization, strong and sensual imagery, mysterious happenings, foreshadowing, and allusions.
Some Important Works of James Fenimore Cooper
- Best Novels: Some of his important novels include Precaution, The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground, The Pioneers: or The Sources of the Susquehanna, The Last of the Mohicans, Butternut Valley of Otsego County, New York, The Headsman: The Abbaye des Vignerons and The Pathfinder, or The Inland Sea.
- Other Works: Besides writing novels, he penned down various other literary pieces such as; The History of the Navy of the United States of America, Autobiography of a Pocket-Handkerchief, Unfinished history of New York City, Why Cooper temporarily stopped writing and “Seneca Lake in New York.”
James Fenimore Cooper’s Impact on Future Literature
James Fenimore Cooper’s literary ideas, historic information, and genuine romances won global readers and audiences. His works not only touched the hearts of the audience but also impacted the writers and critics alike. Honoré de Balzac, a French novelist, admired his literary style, and D. H. Lawrence, a British fictionalist, considered his work The Deerslayer, a perfect book in the world. Similarly, Victor Hugo, a celebrated French novelist and poet, regarded him as the most significant writer outside France. He documented his ideas in his fiction and nonfiction so well that young writers try to imitate his style.
- “Your young white, who gathers his learning from books and can measure what he knows by the page, may conceit that his knowledge, like his legs, outruns that of his fathers’, but, where experience is the master, the scholar is made to know the value of years, and respects them accordingly.” (The Last of the Mohicans)
- “God planted the seeds of all the trees,” continued Hetty, after a moment’s pause, “and you see to what a height and shade they have grown! So it is with the Bible. You may read a verse this year, and forget it, and it will come back to you a year hence, when you least expect to remember it.” (The Deerslayer)
- “Tis a strange calling!’ muttered Hawkeye, with an inward laugh, ‘to go through life, like a catbird, mocking all the ups and downs that may happen to come out of other men’s throats.” (The Last of the Mohicans)
- “You are young, and rich, and have friends, and at such an age I know it is hard to die!” (Last of the Mohicans)