Plots and Characters in the Fiction of James Fenimore Cooper

Warren S. Walker (Texas Tech University)

(Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1978) Placed online with the kind permission of the author and publisher.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

(1) Plot Summaries; (2) An annotated list of the Characters in Cooper’s fiction

IMPORTANT NOTE: Plot summaries can never be a substitute for reading a book, for they tell no more about it than a skeleton tells about a human being. The purpose of a plot summary is to help recall the sequence of events in a story, or to locate incidents for re-examination. It can tell virtually nothing about the important things in a book, the things in which scholars and teachers are interested, nor can it suggest anything of the excitement and pleasure that can come from reading a book. To rely on a plot summary for a review or an academic paper is a guaranteed recipe for failure. Similarly, a list of characters is for reference purposes, not as a source of information about them.

— Hugh C. McDougall, James Fenimore Cooper Society

lot Summaries of Cooper’s Novels and Short Stories (by title)

ooper’s Characters (alphabetical, by name)

The novels and stories written by Cooper include 1,286 characters, many of whom also have nicknames that bring the total to 1,536. This list includes persons who are mentioned, as well as those who play active roles.


to Plots and Characters in the Fiction of James Fenimore Cooper [by Warren S. Walker]

Partly because of the magnitude of Cooper’s fictional canon — his thirty-two novels average more than 500 pages in length — few people besides specialists in early American literature have read all of his works. It is hoped that the present study will be of use both to those who have not yet read his fiction and to those who have read it but have forgotten its details. Plot summaries are provided for all of his novels as well as for four shorter pieces of fiction: “Imagination,” “Heart,” Le Mouchoir ... , [listed on this page by its better-known title of Autobiography of a Pocket-Handkerchief] and “The Lake Gun.”

Like Scott and other Romantic contemporaries, Cooper provided each of his stories with a whole gallery of characters, averaging more than forty per novel and eleven per piece of short fiction. Many of these characters have one or more aliases and/or nicknames and/or sobriquets. Some of his dramatis personae, especially his Indians, have names which appear both in their original form and also in translation into one or more other languages. Thus his 1,286 characters have a total of 1,536 names, all of which are listed in the last section of this volume. There each character is identified by the title or titles of the work or works in which he appears and then by the function he serves in that fiction. An abbreviated list of characters follows each plot summary; here appear only the real names of those characters who play active roles in that novel, not those who are present but only mentioned.

A word must be said about the texts on which this study is based. The Townsend edition (New York, 1859-1861) was used for the novels, and all page references are keyed to this widely distributed, uniform set of thirty-two volumes. “Imagination” and “Heart” appeared in 1823 in a small volume entitled Tales for Fifteen (New York, Wiley). Our text for this little-known work was James F. Beard’s facsimile edition published by Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints (Gainesville, 1959). Autobiography of a Pocket-Handkerchief was first published in 1843 in Graham’s Magazine. Later that year it appeared in book form retitled Le Mouchoir: an Autobiographical Romance (New York, Wilson Company). It was this first American edition of the book that was used as our text. “The Lake Gun” was written for a miscellany, The Parthenon (New York: George W. Wood, 1850). For this short piece our text was Robert E. Spiller’s reprint published in New York by William Farquhar Payson in 1932.