Cooper’s Adaptations of Romance Conventions and Structures

Kay S. House (San Francisco State University)

Presented at the 4ᵗʰ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 1982.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 1982 Conference at State University College of New York, Oneonta and Cooperstown. George A. Test, editor. pp. 1-16.

Copyright © 1982 by State University of New York College at Oneonta.

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

RECENT criticism has made it imperative that we consider — once again — the question of Cooper’s relation to the romance genre, and we must start with the literary and historical situation when Cooper began to write in the 1820s. The people then living in the United States had inherited a land that had been fought over by the French and British for a century. The eastern seaboard and the Atlantic Ocean has subsequently been the site of the American Revolution, which in turn had established a novel government that Europeans had admired but had been unwilling or unable to emulate. As a people, in short, we had had, and felt ourselves still to be having, experiences worthy of an epic. Yet the only attempt at an epic poem worth mentioning, Joel Barlow’s The Columbiad of 1807, had succeeded only in being a pretentiously, colossally, egregiously dull poem. An epic subject called for poetic treatment, but Barlow’s verses and visions are not even interesting, let alone inspiring or memorable.

By a happy historical coincidence, however, about the time we were searching for a means to convey the national experience, Sir Walter Scott had startled the English-speaking world with Waverley. Published anonymously in 1814, Waverley had made famous the “author of Waverley“ or “the Great Unknown.” (It would be thirteen years before Scott was clearly identified as the author.) Waverley was a romance and Scott defined a romance as “a fictitious narrative in prose or verse: the interest of which turns upon marvellous or uncommon incidents.” In later definitions Scott substituted “supernatural” for “uncommon.” Poet and antiquarian that he was, Scott had revived an old medieval form and converted it into a vehicle for a story of events that had happened some half-century earlier. It was a clamorous success, selling six thousand copies in the first six months of publication, and the author of Waverley would become the nineteenth century’s expert on the Romance. Some of his dicta are helpful in showing how Cooper’s works resembled or differed from Scott’s own. In explaining the rules governing romances for the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1824, Scott said that contemporary events should not be treated in a romance but should be described realistically in a novel. Romances did not have to be about love, chivalry, war, or the Middle Ages, but they did describe a “distant past”; Waverley showed, however, that fifty years was distant enough.

Roughly at the same remove from the present was the period of the American Revolution which Cooper wanted to write about in three of his earliest works: The Spy, The Pilot, and Lionel Lincoln. His preface to the first of these, The Spy, showed that he was conscious of having to relinquish the setting and some of the characters that were typical of European romances. As he explained to his readers, “If we have got no lords and castles in the book, it is because there are none in the country.” A major difference between Cooper’s romances and Scott’s was in Cooper’s departing from Scott’s insistence that supernatural happenings were a necessary, or at least desirable, part of the formula for a romance. The closest Cooper ever came to the supernatural in Scott’s sense was in the eerie behavior attributed to a ship’s figurehead in The Water-Witch, a book which he wrote while living abroad at the end of the 1820s. When it proved a comparative failure, he wrote (in a preface to a later edition),

The facts of this country are all so recent and so familiar, that every innovation on them, by means of the imagination, is coldly received, if it be not absolutely frowned upon. ... Its [this book’s] fault is in blending too much of the real with the purely ideal. Half-way measures will not do in matters of this sort; and it is always safer to preserve the identity of a book by a fixed and determinate character, than to make the effort to steer between the true and the false.

By “ideal” Cooper meant imaginary or fictional, and he described the work in the same preface as “probably the most imaginative book ever written by the author.” While he knew that the American reader would accept preternatural happenings, Cooper avoided downright supernatural suggestions after The Water-Witch.

Once Cooper had led the way in adapting the romance to the American scene, William Gilmore Simms saw what had happened and how appropriate the genre was. Simms is no great shakes as a theorist, but his hindsight is accurate enough to be helpful and his terminology is powerfully suggestive. The “modern Romance” he said

is the substitute which people of the present day offer for the ancient epic. The form is changed; the matter is very much the same; at all events, it differs much more seriously from the English novel than it does from the epic and the drama, because the difference is one of material, even more than of fabrication. ... The Romance is of loftier origin than the Novel. It approximates the poem. It may be described as an amalgam of the two. It is only with those who are apt to insist upon poetry as verse, and to confound rhyme with poetry, that the resemblance is unapparent. The standards of the Romance ... are very much those of the epic. It invests individuals with an absorbing interest — it hurries them rapidly through crowding and exacting events, in a narrow space of time — it requires the same unities of plan, of purpose, and harmony of parts, and it seeks for its adventures among the wild and wonderful. It does not confine itself to what is known, or even what is probable. It grasps at the possible; and, placing a human agent in hitherto untried situations, it exercises its ingenuity in extricating him from them, while describing his feelings and his fortunes in the process. 1

Simms was describing the romance as he, following Cooper’s example, was writing it. In the romance, that modern-day substitute for the epic, the writer attempted poetic treatment of epic material in a prose narrative. (The word poem, incidentally, was being used very loosely in the early and mid-nineteenth century, as we realize when we remember that Whitman said the United States of America was a poem.) What Cooper meant by “poetic” we can deduce from his description of the problem his first, and the world’s first, sea novel presented. He aimed, he said, “to avoid technicalities in order to be poetic.” 2 He seemed to be thinking of the reader’s reaction primarily, and by “technicalities” he referred to the humdrum details that would clog the narrative, retarding the action and interfering with the pictures in the reader’s mind.

Besides making possible epical treatment of American experience, the romance, as described by Simms, had much in common with actual American history. Simm’s terminology suggests how appropriate the form became in the hands of Cooper and later writers. It, like the American republic, “invests individuals with an absorbing interest.” Sources as disparate as Crevecoeur’s famous question, “What is an American?”, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States had made it clear that in this country the individual had been made, for the first time in history, the primary foundation of a government. The connections between the romance as a literary genre, Romanticism as a movement, and the French and American revolutions are too complicated to go into here, but there are many of them, as the title of Howard Mumford Jones’s Revolution and Romanticism suggests. One of the differences between the outcomes of the American and French revolutions, however, was the American insistence on the primacy of the individual. A collection of individuals makes a people, while an aggregation of nonentities makes a mob — in spite of modern Marxist rhetoric — and Americans of Cooper’s day and education were insistent on the correct meaning of “We, the people.”

The romance, to get back to Simms’s definition, then takes these individuals and “hurries them rapidly through crowding and exacting events in a narrow space of time.” The life of Natty Bumppo alone brackets the early British forays against the Indians, the French and Indian war, and the Louisiana Purchase of 1804. The romance does not “confine itself to what is known” — like Old World settings and customs — “or even what is probable. It grasps at the possible” — which was what Americans were doing, as our historians have pointed out. The writer’s choice of probablility or possibility as a theme, in turn, powerfully affects the structure of a work. The English novel, most of James’s works, and all the realists later in the century dealt with the probable and followed a structure of logical causality. (Given this situation or group of people, then this would probably happen. If this, then that.) The romance, concerned with the possible, works by simple addition — and then, and then, and then.

The romance “places an agent in hitherto untried situations” just as Americans were experimenting with a new land and a new government and wresting a continent from strange beings many of them suspected were not human. It “exercises its ingenuity in extricating him from them [the untried situations]” as Jefferson had exercised his ingenuity in writing the Declaration and as Americans, particularly those on the frontier, were exercising their ingenuity in staying alive. Finally, the romance, like the nation, puts into question the relevance of historical experience. James was to say that the romance dealt with “experience disengaged, disembroiled, disencumbered, exempt from the conditions that we usually know to attach to it and drag upon it.” 3 The kinds of Old World consequences that drag upon experience were not, in the sparsely settled Republic of Cooper’s day, strongly felt in this country, and one of the common motives for migration to the United States was, of course, to avoid in the New World the consequences of an act one had committed in the Old.

If we detach ourselves from Scott, Simms, James, and history, and turn our attention to the whole tradition of romance, we come upon some curious suggestions about Cooper’s relation to it. Anyone who reads Northrop Frye’s The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance will be convinced that Cooper hadn’t just dipped into romances, but was saturated with their conventions and patterns. (Probably one of the things we all know but keep forgetting is the fact that ten-year-old James Cooper wrote an imitation of Don Bellianis of Greece.) 4 Scenes, events, even tiny details from Cooper rise up in response to what Frye says about the romance, which has been an unusually stable genre, the conventions changing little from Greek times to the present. Frye’s selection of classical, European, and English writers makes clear that Cooper used some patterns and devices without modification while adapting others to suit his materials and purposes.

One of the most enduring romance conventions is the mysterious origin of the hero who may be brought up by foster parents. One reason for this convention is obviously the Aristotelian desire for a recognition scene in which the true identity of the hero is disclosed. In the standard romance, the hero is of noble birth, and secrecy has been necessary to his survival; the whole life of the hero has been a masquerade or disguise up to the time of the revelation. Cooper was not about to reinstate nobility, but he could adapt the convention to his materials. His first attempt at explaining one of nature’s noblemen, the common man of uncommon abilities and virtues, was with Harvey Birch, the titular hero of The Spy. He handled the Birches’ background rather clumsily, in my opinion, indicating that they were unfortunates who had fallen from a higher social class. The elder Birch says in Chapter X, “’the judgment of an offended God lighted on my house,’” but he does not name the offense and Cooper says only, “At one blow competence and kindred had been swept from them, and from that day to the present hour, persecution and distress had followed their wandering steps.” As a double spy, Harvey Birch’s public role is not one a self-respecting man would willingly play, and Cooper was clearly interested only in suggesting to the reader that patriots could be found among men who were poor. With The Pioneers, his next book, Cooper hit on a way to make the mysterious origin convention a function of plot. The hero, Oliver Edwards, does have something like foster parents in Chingachgook and Natty as well as (hidden away) a real grandfather. Oliver is, were this the Old World, the equivalent of the young prince and heir to both his red and his white fathers’ kingdom. His true identity, revealed only at the end, is central to the distrust, accusations and injustices that form the conflicts of the plot. He emerges finally as what Thomas Philbrick has called the “fully legitimate authority” who by rights should rule over the region; in Philbrick’s words, “he is heir to a long tradition of honor, of loyalty to established authority, of continuity in religion and social class.” 5 He is also, I would add, as firmly linked to the Indian past as a while claimant can plausibly be.

Cooper used the mysterious origin equally well in his next book, The Pilot, in which Mr. Grey (neither black nor white) is an alias for John Paul Jones in disguise — though Jones is never named. He arrives on the scene, a middle-aged mariner, and the mystery of his identity adds to the suspense since he speaks with a Scottish accent and the Americans are, during the Revolution, sailing in British waters where betrayal would be easy — and fatal. In other books like The Bravo, Lionel Lincoln, The Water-Witch, or The Red Rover Cooper was to use the mysterious origin of a hero to increase the suspense and to heighten our fears for the safety of someone — often a heroine — we want to protect. By the time he wrote The Red Rover in 1827, Cooper was using mysterious origins and unknown identities to build alarm and suspense with such gusto that we reel before a barrage of revelations. The true identities of two men and one woman and the sex of a second woman masquerading as a boy are all revealed, but only after so many intermittent disguises and changes of name that the reader is grateful for the sort of plot summary that Warren Walker’s book 6 contains. Jack Tier, by the way, is a late work (1848) and no romance, but it turns the mysterious origin convention inside out for the purpose of satire.

Many romances start with a break in the continuity of a character’s identity, and the identity is recovered at the end of the tale. For the Leatherstocking Tales, Cooper made an interesting modification of this pattern. By using the Indian system of naming a person for his predominant quality at a certain stage of development, Cooper traces Natty Bumppo through his successive identities as Straight-tongue, The Pigeon, Lap-ear, and Deerslayer to his baptism as Hawkeye in The Deerslayer so that the character seems built by accretion as a sculptor builds a figure in clay. Rather than being recovered at the end of each book, Leatherstocking’s identity seems to be discovered anew — in a more complicated form than before. Cooper’s type of romance thus is capable of embodying what Howard Mumford Jones has called “the great, the unique contribution of romanticism to modernity,” which is “the insistence that every human being is a distinct and autonomous entity.” 7

Another way of indicating the unique identity of an individual is the device of twins, doubles, or characters who look alike. Natty, for instance, resembles in some ways Billy Kirby in Pioneers, Hurry Harry in Deerslayer, and Ishmael Bush in The Prairie. But, as with identical twins, the more closely the two resemble each other, the more one must refine and extend one’s scrutiny in order to tell them apart. Our basic assumption is that no two characters can be identical, but in defense of this belief we need to discover differences, and it is through such discoveries that we learn about the real Natty. In the old romances, the need to distinguish was based on the need to find the legitimate ruler (which is also the motive of The Pioneers as far as Oliver Edwards is concerned), but in the modern romance the necessity is to discover the true identity or complete character of someone like Leatherstocking.

Mistaken identity often enters a romance through trials, usually held in an underworld or lower world, brought on by an unjust or malicious or mistaken charge which the hero or heroine is acquitted of on revealing his or her real identity. Such a trial, Frye says, is always “in marked contrast to the upperworld apocalypses in Christianity and elsewhere.” 8 Cooper’s adaptation of this pattern in The Pioneers and The Prairie was clever. Hiram Doolittle’s malice is able to bring Natty to the bar because Hiram and Richard think Leatherstocking is a silver miner and thief. Hiram, in turn, has been empowered to work his mischief because Judge Temple has mistaken Natty’s true identity. “’I did not — I could not anticipate that an old, a friendless man, like him, would dare to oppose the officers of justice. I supposed that he would submit to the search,’” the judge confesses. Natty himself gets confused and begins to feel old and friendless, “’I am here — one to many,’” he tells the posse. But the action tells us that Natty is not so old as he and the judge think, and he is certainly not friendless. His true identity is brought out by the plot. His judgment in the upper world, his proper identification and acquittal, are all but attested to in a corresponding scene in The Prairie, where he again rises to be judged and says, “’Here!’” — this time to a celestial judgment.

Mention of a corresponding scene reminds us of the importance of other kinds of correspondences in romance conventions. In addition to similar scenes, mirrors (including reflecting bodies of water) and echoes — which are to sound what mirrors are to sight — are stock devices. Cooper’s Lake Glimmerglass — clearly a mirror — and the echo that attests to the fairness of Hawkeye’s first homicide are but two of the romance conventions in Deerslayer. Other romance devices mentioned by Frye, however, may have additional explanations. He says, for instance, that board games, particularly chess, are common devices, but the chess pieces in Deerslayer also relate obviously to the Coopers’ lifelong playing of chess and to Cooper’s wish to show the Indians as aesthetically and intellectually responsive. Similarly, Natty’s being tied to a tree as a target for tomahawks comes clearly from Indian lore rather than from the kind of romance Frye mentions in which the heroine is captured by robbers who hang her from a tree and are preparing to throw javelins at her when she is rescued. Cooper would never have treated a woman so, and it is on this point that we find some important departures from romance conventions.

Not only does Cooper not subject heroines to tortures or send them into battle, but he changes their characters significantly. In most romances, heroines live by guile and the heroes are commonly brought down by some deception — usually at the hands of a treacherous woman. So frequently is the heroine associated with what Dante called froda (fraud, imposture, deception) that one heroine of Heliodorus said that since no one would believe her anyway she might even risk telling the truth. Cooper’s heroines have little to do with the heroines of romance — who are frequently warriors or hunters or, if they are stay-at-homes, are as tricky as Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. Instead, some of the structural patterns and themes traditionally associated with heroines of romances are transferred to Leatherstocking. Frye says of Belphoebe, in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, “It is obvious that in a romance, which is almost by definition a love story, there is a technical difficulty of what one does with a permanently virginal figure, even if not immobilized by allegorical association with a queen. Belphoebe stays in her wood hunting stags.” Yet he insists on the usefulness of the virgin, since it is the virgin “who symbolizes the structural principle of the separation or polarizing of the action into two worlds — one desirable and the other detestable.” 9 (By contrast, the non-virgin, the woman who falls in love and marries, belongs with the structural pattern that matches the cycle of the seasons and accommodates to it. Elizabeth Temple and the structure of The Pioneers are a good example of this pattern of accommodation as opposed to the contrasting structure brought into play by the virginal Leatherstocking.) The virginal heroines who are kidnapped, reduced to slavery, threatened with torture and yet remain defiant and chaste give us, Frye says, a “vision of human integrity imprisoned in a world it is in but not of yet always managing to avoid the one fate which is really worse than death, the annihilation of one’s identity.” 10 This is, I think, the fear we feel for Natty — the annihilation of his identity — either by marriage or, to put it in terms of structure, by going from the polarizing structure to the accommodating one. Much of his identity is tied up, as romance conventions dictate, with conflicts of love and honor that have to do with attachments to “family, tribe, or class loyalties.” 11 A comic resolution of such conflicts is possible if the hero transfers his energies and affections to a new family. When Natty directs his energies and affections to the Indians in The Deerslayer, in The Last of the Mohicans, and in The Prairie he keeps these books from being structurally tragic. At the same time, however, he fulfills a function that a traditional heroine of romance would perform by marriage.

Another connection between Natty and the sexual symbolism of romances is suggested by Frye when he says that the structural core of the romance is not only that “break in the continuity of identity” mentioned earlier, but that this break “has analogies to falling asleep and entering a dream world” which is

... a world of increased erotic intensity as is obvious from the imagery of romance alone, without reference to psychology. We are often reminded of this type of descent by the imagery of the hunt. A knight rides off into a forest in pursuit of an animal, and as he disappears the dream atmosphere closes around him. Sometimes he finds himself in a forest so dense that the sky is invisible. In this threshold symbol of entering a world of sleep all images begin to take on an erotic quality, so that the surrounding forest becomes a sexual personality.

The hunt is normally an image of the masculine erotic, a movement of pursuit and linear thrust, in which there are sexual overtones to the object being hunted. These overtones lead, in English, to many puns on “deer” and “hart.” As we sink deeper into the dream, the quasi-sexual object of pursuit becomes the surrounding forest itself. There seems to be an increasing identity between the forest and a shrouding female body, of a rather sinister kind. (p. 104)

For Natty, we would have to strike the suggestion that the forest-female body is sinister; (Frye is about to go on to the myth of Actaeon). But the equation of forest and female is clear in The Deerslayer when Natty tells Judith that if he can help Chingachgook get Hist back again, “it will give me almost as much pleasure as if I had got back my own sweetheart.” Judith asks where his sweetheart is, and Natty answers,

“She’s in the forest, Judith — hanging from the boughs of the trees, in a soft rain — in the dew on the open grass — the clouds that float about in the blue heavens — the birds that sing in the woods — the sweet springs where I slake my thirst — and in all the other glorious gifts that come from God’s providence!” (Chapter VIII)

Religion has obliterated all sinister suggestions from this forest sweetheart, and Judith responds more intelligently than many Cooper critics when she says, “’You mean that, as yet you’ve never loved one of my sex, but love best your haunts and your own manner of life.’” Not only is this the truth but it fits Eve Effingham’s description of Natty as “’a man who had the simplicity of a woodsman, the heroism of a savage, the faith of a Christian, and the feelings of a poet.’” 12

Quoting from Home as Found brings me to a question that prompted this lecture. What are we doing — if not beating a dead horse — by investigating romance conventions once more? Let me answer with the first two sentences of another book entitled Home as Found, this one written by Eric Sundquist.

While Cooper is deservedly praised for exploring that “area of possibility,” in the words of R. W. B. Lewis, represented by the American frontier, no one would deny that his dramatizations can be both penetrating and ludicrous on the same page, that the frontier can at times become an area of impossibility populated by stick figures mouthing stylized handbook creeds. In the case of the Leatherstocking Tales, we quietly utter the word “romance” and tend to forgive if only to salvage Natty Bumppo as the totem (whether hero or scapegoat) of our literature. 13

By re-defining romance as nothing more than bad writing, Sundquist is free to go ahead and find that infantile complexes which had been repressed in Cooper broke out in a story of incest and imitation in defense of aristocracy. One of Sundquist’s major concerns is the many names of the hero, who turns out to be Paul Effingham. He has gone by the name of Blunt on ship-board, has grown up under the name of a stepfather, Powys, and belatedly learns that he is John Effingham’s son, having been conceived when John Effingham was going by the name of Assheton. The unraveling of the tangle is a classic but complicated case of the revelation of true identity; the result is efficient since Cooper did not have to create a whole separate biography for the young man; the property stays intact, and the two people who have a legitimate claim to it carry on — as in The Pioneers. But Sundquist, ignoring the conventions of romance, says that Paul’s multiple names are as silly as those of Mrs. Abbott’s children: Orlando Furioso Abbott and Bianca Alzuma Ann Abbott. He fails to recognize any distinction between ridiculous given names used all together and surnames which are used temporarily and discarded once Paul has good reason for changing his name — as Natty had sequentially changed his sobriquets for good cause.

The mystery of Paul’s identity and the complications involved in clearing it up tempt some critics to plunge into discussions of incest, and Sundquist describes the home as an “incestuous trap of imitation” (p. 26) without realizing that marrying the son of her father’s cousin is not putting Eve in an incestuous relationship. (In The Spy, incidentally, we are told that the parents of the hero and heroine were cousins — though how close cousins they were is not revealed.) In Home as Found, Cooper was trying to wind up a tale that had already grown to two volumes — when the hearers in his family demanded “more ship,” according to his story — and the confessions and multiple revelations of true identity that close the second volume simply let Cooper tie all the loose ends together in the briefest possible time.

By refusing to consider the romance genre as a possible context for a discussion of Home as Found, Sundquist is also free to misinterpret the echose of Lake Glimmerglass.

The echoes that the Effingham party delights in at the Speaking Rocks are thought to “come from the spirit of the Leatherstocking, which keeps about its old haunts, and repeats everything we say, in mockery of the invasion of the woods.” (p. 31)

The echoes are “especially cutting” Sundquist goes on to say, “in that Cooper has become brilliantly schizophrenic on the subject of imitation, on the one hand denouncing the American aping of culture, on the other recoiling from originality into his own mimetic self.” What “recoiling from originality” refers to is not clear, but Cooper was definitely not denouncing any aping of culture. Americans’ mindless acquisition of European fads and fashions was something else. In any event, four years after the publication of this book, we will find those very echoes protesting the immorality of Harry’s shot at a deer and attesting to the fairness of Natty’s shot at an Indian in The Deerslayer.

Sundquist quotes approvingly R. W. B. Lewis’s statement that the “most illuminating clashes and insights occur on the margins of [Cooper’s] plots” and goes on to say that his power “lies in the way he continually calls attention to his plot as a device that merely sets in motion an array of speculations about the place of imitation in the American experiment, speculations which have no clear resolution” (p. 27). What Sundquist is being confused by here is in misunderstanding Cooper’s intentions, which brings me to a necessarily brief mention of what I think is an important connection between Cooper’s romances and those of such other romancers as Ariosto. A hint to look in that direction seems clear from the name Cooper gave to Mrs. Abbott’s child.

Ludovico Ariosto entered the service of the Cardinal Ippolito d’Este when he was twenty-nine. The Este family had ruled the ducal court of Ferrara for three centuries, and Ariosto was frequently sent as a personal emissary of the Cardinal to the hostile Papal Curia. In 1516, while working for the Cardinal, he came across Matteo Boiardo’s unfinished poem of thirty-five thousand lines called “Orlando Innamorato”; it contained material about Charlemagne, Roland, and some of the Arthurian figures. Ariosto, who has been called a “cuckoo of genius,” laid his egg in Boiardo’s nest. Boiardo had not only not finished the poem, but he took no ethical or moral positions. Ariosto appropriated his material, added a consistent view of life, and produced Orlando Furioso. He had earlier written satires directly attacking conditions in court life, but the Orlando is cast as a Romance and is at the same time more comprehensive than his satires had been. Weaving many strands of a story, Ariosto showed how a poet could develop his own attitude toward strange, complex and ambiguous happenings. He also showed how he could convert the Romance into a teaching instrument, since much of the story contains tactful hints or veiled warnings. He was, in the volatile court of Ferrara, instructing the Duke by indirection, and pointing out what truths seemed to be universally valid. (As Frye has said, Yeats showed us in an early play called The King’s Threshold that “kings would have no motivation to act like kings if poets did not provide the imaginative conception of kingship” (p. 178).) Ariosto was providing an agenda of items that should be discussed and considered, and was saying things that could have cost him his life — or at least his living — had he not cloaked them with the form of Romance.

We all know that Cooper, intent on his country’s “mental independence,” saw a parallel between courtiers in a monarchy and politicians and writers in a democracy. We cannot prove that Cooper realized, as literary historians now do, the cleverness of Ariosto’s (or Sidney’s or Spenser’s) adaptation of Romance to coeval situations, but the genre has so ancient and honorable a history as a didactic instrument that Cooper no doubt was aware of its potential in his own day — even without the smashing commercial success of the Great Unknown, and his own (and his mother’s) fondness for romances.


1 Preface to the revised edition of The Yemassee (New York: 1835).

2 James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: England (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1981), p. 10.

3 The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces by Henry James, ed. Richard P. Blackmur (New York: Scribner’s, 1934), p. 33.

4 The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James F. Beard (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960), I, 5.

5 “Cooper’s The Pioneers: Origins and Structure,” PMLA 79 (December, 1964), p. 592.

6 Plots and Characters in the Fiction of James Fenimore Cooper (Hamden, Conn.: Shoe String Press, 1978).

7 Revolution and Romanticism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974), p. 463.

8 Northrop Frye, The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976), p. 122.

9 Ibid, p. 83.

10 Ibid, p. 96.

11 Ibid, p. 137.

12 James Fenimore Cooper, Home as Found (New York: Capricorn Books, 1961), p. 196. (Chapter XIV)

13 Eric J. Sundquist, Home as Found: Authority and Genealogy in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), p. 1. An advertisement from the press quotes a reviewer who proclaims this book “The finest work done on Cooper since D. H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature.”