Fenimore Cooper’s Wyandotté and the Cyclic Course of Empire

Jeffrey Walker (Oklahoma State University)

Presented at the 6ᵗʰ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 1986.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 1986 Conference at State University College of New York — Oneonta and Cooperstown. George A. Test, editor. (pp. 94-104).

Copyright © 1987 by State University of New York College at Oneonta.

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

For more than thirty years, scholars have written about the affiliation between James Fenimore Cooper and the Hudson River School of landscape painters. James Franklin Beard was one of the first to clarify this relationship in his address to the New York Historical State Historical Association in 1951. 1 Since then, the kinship has been well-established, if not overworked, in especially good studies by Howard Mumford Jones, James T. Callow, H. Daniel Peck, Donald Ringe and Blake Nevius. Yet as diverse and as comprehensive as these studies have been in establishing Cooper’s use of pictorial techniques in his fiction, few scholars have determined whether the theme or structure of a single Cooper novel was directly influenced by any one Hudson River painting or painter. Several critics have outlined some specific thematic and structural similarities between a number of Thomas Cole paintings and Cooper novels, but they do not go much beyond establishing a set of parallels between writer and artist that suggest an indirect or subconscious influence. 2 This is understandable, considering that Cooper used these techniques in different ways in a broad range of his works. However, the design and theme of one Cooper novel does demonstrate what is most certainly a direct relationship between it and a Hudson River painting.

Savage State

Savage State.


The Arcadian or Pastoral State

Arcadian or Pastoral State.


The Consummation of Empire

Consummation of Empire.







The novel is Wyandotté, or The Hutted Knoll, published in 1843, and the painting is The Course of Empire, the series of five canvases completed by Thomas Cole in 1836. 3 This essay compares these two works in order to show that while the structure and theme of Wyandotté are not indentured to The Course of Empire, they are, nonetheless, enriched and influenced by the paintings in Cole’s work. Of much greater importance, this influence reveals a significant relationship between the two that helps to explain Cooper’s creation of a cyclic paradigm in Wyandotté, one allowing Cooper to suggest that American history is an endlessly repeating cycle, a cycle incapable of being stopped until Americans learn that their history is something to be preserved, not something to be achieved.

In his attempt to conceptualize rather than to transcend history, it is not surprising that Cooper was influenced by Cole’s five paintings (Savage State, The Arcadian or Pastoral State, The Consummation of Empire, Destruction, Desolation) and their portrait of man’s “progress from barbarism to civilization — to luxury — to the vicious state, or state of destruction — and to the state of ruin and desolation (Noble 129). By the end of the 1830s, Barbara Novak writes, “the strongly moral reception of Cole’s Course of Empire was a salient part of the age. If, like nature, art was a divine force, and the artist himself bound by his divine task, morality, served by art and nature, was enlisted to assist man toward his divinity, and didactically encouraged at all turns (10), 4 Cooper himself, in a letter to Louis Legrand Noble — Cole’s biographer — dated 6 January 1819, praised the series as a “great epic poem,” remarking that the “first two pictures are the best; as poems the others come in for their proper share. There is sublimity about the rock on the mountain top, seen in its different aspects, but always the same, a monument of divine origin, amid all the changes of the scene, that has always deeply affected me (L&J V: 396-97). He also described the individual scenes in The Course of Empire:

He [Cole] paints us five pictures. In the first, for example, is shown us, not only what the nation-hero is doing at the moment we gaze upon him, but also what he has been doing, and yet will do. The second and third show us the same. In the fourth it is shown us, not indeed what the nation-hero is doing, (for his work is done), but what he is suffering — what an avenging power is doing with him, and yet will go on to do. What that power has done is shown in the fifth or last (Noble 169).

Cooper’s description of these scenes — scenes that he admitted “deeply affected” him — are important for they reveal that Cole’s paintings appear to have had more of an impact on Cooper than either he or his critics have noticed. That influence can best be understood by noting the specific elements of Cole’s design, artistic technique, and theme that surface in Wyandotté and by showing how they could have helped Cooper shape his cyclic paradigm in the novel.

The design of the novel is the best place to begin demonstrating these correspondences. Traditionally, the structure of Wyandotté has been described as tripartite. John McWilliams, for instance, maintains that “The first section of the novel, laid in 1765, describes the building and promise of the knoll. The middle section, comprising nearly all of the novel, deals with the fulfillment and downfall of the community during 1775 and 1776. The concluding chapter tells of the return visit of the survivors in 1795” (89-90). Within these sections, however, McWilliams actually identifies five stages in the development of the Hutted Knoll: the first section describes the “building” and “promise” of the community; the second section, the “fulfillment” and “downfall” of the knoll; the third section, the “return” of the survivors. Yet nowhere does McWilliams or any other scholar notice the similarities between the five canvases of The Course of Empire and these five movements in Cooper’s novel. In one sense, McWilliams’s “building” suggests Cole’s Savage State; “promise,” The Arcadian or Pastoral State; “fulfillment,” The Consummation of Empire; “downfall,” Destruction; and “return,” Desolation. Although the dramatic action of the novel probably cannot be measured off and identified so neatly, these similarities do exist and are significant, These five divisions do not deny the value of McWilliams’s three-part division, nor do they invalidate Cooper’s earlier statements as to the number of stages in the development of a settlement. 5 They are very helpful, however, in understanding how the design of Wyandotté reinforces its theme and how Cooper was affected by the five canvases.

There is little doubt, for example, that Wyandotté, like The Course of Empire, follows a cyclical pattern. From the beginning of the novel until its end, Cooper shows that the Hutted Knoll’s progress from discovery to abandonment — from savage to desolate state — is inevitable because of the human propensity for self- destruction, the moral insensitivity of the community and its leaders to separate friend from foe, and the inability of its founder to learn the lesson of American history. These form a distinct pattern that begins in the first chapter and continues to resurface throughout the stages of the Hutted Knoll’s existence. Because Cooper recognized that this pattern had been established with the initial colonization of America, he shapes his narrative with this historical prototype clearly in mind. The pattern provides Cooper with a method of organizing his scenes and developing his theme.

Cooper establishes the first part of the pattern in Chapter I when he describes the land, a wilderness “toward the head-waters of the Susquehannah and Delaware, where the streams run rapidly and where there are no fevers“(9) and its founder, an “ancient officer by the name of Willoughby“(8). Like his interpretation of Cole’s Savage State, in which the “whole combination of scenery, of great expanse, has the finest characteristics of nature in a wild state — streams, rocks, woods, dells, waters, and mountains, charmingly and effectually disposed” (Noble 170). Cooper’s description of the setting of Wyandotté establishes a wilderness-garden where civilization has yet to intrude. The garden, however, does not retain its pristine quality for long because at the end of the first chapter, Captain Willoughby leads a band of settlers into it, and the wilderness is quickly transformed from savage to pastoral state.

Cooper effects this transformation by having Willoughby set out immediately to clear space on the land for his settlement. Concerned more with progress than with preserving the wilderness, the Captain selects an island in the middle of the pond for his colony, an island “that rose forty feet above the surface of the water, and was still crowned with noble pines, a species of tree that had escaped the ravages of the beaver” (13). Unfortunately, while the island had escaped the ravages of nature, it does not escape the destructive and unnatural changes Willoughby makes upon it. Soon after the Captain and his band have hutted, they make drastic alterations in the landscape. They drain the pond and come “at once into the possession of a noble farm, cleared of trees and stumps, as it might be by a coupe de main“ (13). The contrast Cooper describes is startling:

The first blow was struck against the dam about nine o’clock on the second day of May, 1765, and, by evening, the little sylvan-looking lake, which had laid embedded in the forest, glittering in the morning sun, unruffled by a breath of air, had entirely disappeared! In its place there remained an open expanse of wet mud, thickly covered with pools and the remains of beaver-houses, with a small river winding its way slowly through the slime (14).

Vegetables are planted, fences are constructed, and grass seed is sown. The changes are so startling that “the following morning Capt. Willoughby almost mourned over the work of his hands. The scene was so different from that it had presented when the flats were covered with water, that it was impossible not to feel the change” (14). These alterations not only demonstrate Cooper’s use of contrast, the principal device that will inform the design of Wyandotté and reflect Cole’s influence, but also show how the continuing transformation of the wilderness affects the lives and fortunes of the settlers who have “hutted.” Just as each of the five paintings in The Course of Empire contributes significantly to Cole’s allegory when viewed in relation to the others, so too, do Cooper’s changing landscapes seen in contrast with one another clarify the meaning of his novel.

To substantiate this contrast and to impress upon his readers the theme of the cyclic nature of man’s history, Cooper borrows another device from Cole: the use of the single dominant detail. to establish the permanency of the scene. Cole recognized that while the surface of the land may alter and no longer remain virgin soil, the land will outlast the civilization. In The Course of Empire, Cole painted a rocky crag in the corner of each canvas. Whether Cole’s painting portrayed a savage world or a civilization destroyed by its own corruption, the rocky crag remained, confirming at once the moral objective of the series. In Wyandotté, Cooper uses the knoll itself as the single dominant detail, and it appears in virtually every scene in the novel as either the subject of discussion or as a place of action. Introduced in Chapter I, the formation is described in greater detail in Chapter III:

The hillock that rose out of the pond in the form of a rocky little island, was one of those capricious formations that are often met with on the surface of the earth. It stood about thirty rods from the northern side of the area, very nearly central as to its eastern and western boundaries, and presented a slope inclining toward the south. Its greatest height was at its northern end, where it rose out of the rich alluvion of the soil, literally a rock of some forty feet in perpendicular height, having a summit of about an acre of level land, and falling off on its three sides; to the east and west precipitously; to the south quite gently and with regularity. It was this accidental formation which had induced the captain to select the spot as the site of his residence, for dwelling so far from any post, and in a place so difficult of access, something like military defences were merely precautions of ordinary prudence. ... The perpendicular rock to the north, even overhung the plain. It was almost inaccessible, while the formation on the other sides, offered singular facilities, both for a dwelling and for security (31).

Captain Willoughby chooses the hillock for strategic purposes, deciding that the “position on the knoll would be the most military, and might be defended the longest, against man or beast” (13). But at the end of the novel, when violence and deception have brought an end to the settlement itself, the hillock — like Cole’s rocky crag — remains. The Captain’s choice of the rocky knoll for his community cannot prevent its destruction; instead it is the settlers’ inability to regard the warnings from past civilizations — to learn the lesson of history — that leads to their downfall and that establishes Cooper’s lesson that the flaws in American society are not in nature, but in human nature.

Cooper’s next stage in the cyclical history of the Hutted Knoll continues to follow the pattern established in the first three chapters and continues to employ contrast as the chief structural and thematic device to inform his vision of history. Chapter IV initiates the major action of the novel and reveals the continuous changes that have occurred on the knoll. This chapter, renewing the action ten years later in the spring of 1775, describes the settlement now firmly established, completely civilized. In fact, “Everything like a visible rock, the face on the northern end excepted, had disappeared” (45). The great stone hut, built ten years earlier, had undergone many alterations to add to the comfort of its inhabitants. To the house had been added a “library, parlor, and music room, together with other apartments devoted to the use of the ladies” (46). Even the grounds, the “shrub-adorned area in front Of the Hut. ... This spot the captain called his glacis, while his daughters termed it the lawn” (46) was considered the picture of society. All of the changes that take place in the settlement have been achieved to fulfill Captain Willoughby’s dream of passing the “close of his life in the tranquil pursuits of agriculture, and in the bosom of his family” (8), yet throughout the novel, Cooper portrays that dream as folly. Even the “massive wall of stone, for a hundred and fifty feet, in length, and six feet in height” (31) that the Captain builds to protect his garden-wilderness from danger proves inadequate. For Willoughby and his settlers fail to recognize what Cooper does not fail to emphasize: that no refuge, however Edenic and apparently isolated and protected from the outside world, is ever safe from the encroachment of civilization or the cyclical pattern of nature. Therefore, just as Cole portrays the rise and fall of civilization in his five paintings by showing how these cycles are immutable, so, too, does Cooper depict in his scenes the history of the Captain’s settlement as an apt commentary on the American myth of progress. Despite the attempt to transform the wilderness into a civilization, the eventual destruction of the Knoll illustrates Cooper’s belief that both are disjunctive.

Progress and change, as Cole illustrates in The Consummation of Empire, results in destruction. To prepare his readers for the demise of the Hutted Knoll, Cooper introduces a series of ominous events to foreshadow that destruction. Each disrupts the otherwise placid state of Willoughby’s settlement and collectively represents the same use of contrast that Cole utilizes in his canvases. Cooper’s description of Cole’s third painting is appropriate to the action in this stage of the novel: “Vividly graphic as a scene of glory, all is yet suggestive of the shadowy tempest, or the blue grassy ocean, of the surf whitening far-off shores. The spirit of the beholder is therefore secretly attuned to strong and terrible contrasts, such as would be presented at the violent breaking up, rather than at any period in the decline, of the state” (Noble 172-73). Every incident or omen that surfaces in Chapters IV-X of the long middle section to portend catastrophe suggests Cole’s “strong and terrible contrasts.” For example, the first news from the outside world that heralds the oncoming Revolution arrives in Chapter V: “Blood has, at length, been drawn, sir; open rebellion has commenced” (62). In addition, more skirmishes are reported in Chapters VIII and X that cast an ominous gloom over the community. Cooper here introduces key characters who will play a major role in the Knoll’s demise. In Chapter V, Evert Beekman, Whig counterpart to the Tory Bob Willoughby and eventual husband of Beulah Willoughby, appears to establish the theme of the divided house. Later in the same chapter, Captain Willoughby and Reverend Woods reinforce this theme when they engage in a mock war of words to debate the virtues of patriotism. In Chapter VI, Cooper describes the Hutted Knoll’s social hierarchy — what Maud Willoughby had nicknamed the “three tribes” (the overseer, the laborers, and the servants) — a class structure that will break up in rebellion against its founder. Chapter VII contains a sketch of the novel’s villain, Joel Strides, who as “wily overseer” will lead that rebellion. Cooper also depicts the knoll’s fortifications to foreshadow its vulnerability. In Chapter VII, he explains that the “entrance through the palisades was directly in front of that to the house, and both passages still remained open, one set of gates, not being completed, and another not yet being hung” (93). Mrs. Willoughby’s prophetic warning to her husband in Chapter II to have the gates hung and his reply, “Fear nothing, love,” are both introduced to serve as a harbinger of how the opening in the wall will provide access to the garden and result in its destruction. Even the Captain’s daily act of patrolling the wall, much like the Puritan minister-prophet’s duty of guarding his garden from the watchtower, does not prevent his settlement from being invaded and eventually destroyed.

The invasion of this garden begins in Chapter XI and establishes the transition between “fulfillment” and “destruction” in the middle section of the novel. Appropriately, it takes place at the “rocky eminence” where Maud, the adopted daughter who later survives the downfall of the Knoll along with her husband, sits admiring the “whole of the little panorama around the site of the ancient pond” (145). Reaching the peak and taking a seat, she wonders “Why cannot men be content with such scenes of loveliness and nature as this, and love each other, and be at peace, as God’s laws command? Then we might all be living happily together, here, without trembling lest news of some sad misfortune should reach us, from hour to hour” (145). The answer to her question is self-evident in both the preceding and following action. By showing that even the most admirable and prudent of people cannot reverse the pattern of man’s history, Cooper maintains that at best Americans can only repeat the mistakes of the past, the same mistakes that Cole shows inevitable in his society grown satiated and self-destructive.

From this moment in Chapter XI through the middle of Chapter XXX — the last twenty chapters of the novel — Cooper traces the causes of the Hutted Knoll’s demise, depicts Captain Willoughby’s little empire in its decline and fall, and articulates the significance of his history lesson. Cooper’s account of Cole’s fourth canvas suggests the nature of the action in the last two-thirds of his novel:

Weakened and debased by luxury, “brimstone sprinkled upon its habitations” by the hand of vice, “the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.” In a word, the once proud capital, sacked by a barbarous enemy, reddens with conflagration and carnage. All appetite for conquest lost in long satiety, there is now, in its effeminacy, not even the power to resist. Enemies, begotten by ambition, and nurtured by tyranny, take those once far-reaching, deeply beaten, but now grass-grown paths of victory, and follow them — rush in to their revenge (Noble 173).

The Hutted Knoll is also a settlement weakened and debased by the desire for the finer elements of life and the illusion that it possessed those refined ideals and elements. Yet of even more importance is the Knoll’s hopelessly naive — and ironically treated — notion that one “dwelling at the Hutted Knoll, in the summer of 1776, could never have imagined that he was a resident of a country convulsed by revolution, and disfigured by war” (140). That very condition, however, exists in the settlement, Misled by the belief that the Hutted Knoll could maintain its strength and insularity by remaining aloof and apart from the events of Revolutionary America, the settlers contribute to their own downfall. America’s history is no different than those histories of Old World nations. The country itself may gain its independence from England, Cooper admits, but it can never achieve its freedom from the historical pattern of the past.

That Cooper devotes the last two-thirds of his novel to the phase of the community’s downfall is not surprising. Because Wyandotté is a lesson in the history of disregarded warnings from the past, Cooper focuses his narrative on the false presumptions his characters draw about the coming Revolution. Using irony as his theme as well as his method, as Wayne Franklin argues, Cooper presents “advance as retreat, retirement as commitment, independence as moral chaos, patriotism as an officious badge pinned to the garments of selfishness” (178). All of these ironic contrasts serve to present a bleak picture of Cooper’s Revolutionary world, and they surface most visibly in these final episodes. One incongruity after another surfaces in Chapters XI-XXX to demonstrate the antithetical elements at work in Willoughby’s settlement, The Captain’s inability to recognize Joel Strides as collaborator leads to the invasion and destruction of his community; his blindness about the loyalty of Wyandotté (nee Saucy Nick), a man he once flogged and who like all Magua-cast Indians has never forgotten his humiliation, results in the Captain’s death. Young Bob Willoughby’s disguise as a hunter fools no one, especially Strides, and it prompts his capture, while the white rebels, disguised as Indians, fool almost everyone. Furthermore, Maud’s mistaken belief that the Captain is her real father prevents her from expressing her love for Bob, the Captain’s son; Bob’s belief that Maud is his sister causes him to repress his true feelings for her. Even the Reverend Woods, the novel’s representation of Christian faith, is portrayed as ineffectual and comical as he foolishly believes that the Indians’s reputed respect for religious leaders will allow him to escape and to bring reinforcements. Throughout Wyandotté, the characters and their actions emphasize Cooper’s position that trust, morality, and insight, all hallmarks of a successful civilization, are absent. Destruction is therefore inevitable because human nature is at work to subvert and despoil its own vision.

The last scene in the novel demonstrates Cooper’s cyclical paradigm. Like The Course of Empire, the action of Wyandotté is circular rather than linear. Instead of concluding the novel with the marriage of his young hero and heroine as a resolution to the narrative tensions — a technique Cooper employed in many early novels — he ends Wyandotté where it began with a description of the unsettled wilderness. When Bob Willoughby, now a Baron and a General, and his wife return to the Hutted Knoll in 1795, he discovers that the landscape had been “seldom trodden in the interval of the nineteen years which had occurred since he had last seen it, himself” (369). He reaches the mill, however, and finds that “the spirit of destruction, which so widely prevails in the loose stage of society that exists in all new countries, had been at work. Every one of the buildings at the falls, had been burnt” (369). On the other hand, when he arrives at the Knoll itself, he and his wife are greeted with a view that caused “pain and pleasure, strangely mingled.” All the buildings remained, “surprisingly little altered to the eye by the lapse of years. The gates had been secured when they left the place, in 1776, and the Hut ... remained positively intact. It is true, quite half of the palisades were rotted down, but the Hut, itself, had resisted the ravages of time” (370).

Cooper’s decision to preserve the structure rather than to portray it in ruins — as Cole depicts the crumbling columns of his buildings in Desolation — does not lessen the impact of his cyclical interpretation of American history. The hut may remain, and the hope of future generations represented by the marriage of Bob and Maud Willoughby may appear to suggest progress and regeneration, but this is merely an illusion Cooper creates. If anything, the standing hut, like Cole’s crumbling ruins, serve as a monument to the follies of the past. The reason for Willoughby’s return to the Knoll is equally misleading, Rather than remaining to rebuild the settlement after its demise in 1776, Bob Willoughby “quit America” and moved to England. Six months later, “the Gazette that arrived from England announced the, promotion of ‘Sir Robert Willoughby, Bart., late Major in the — th, to be Lt. Colonel, by purchase, in His Majesty’s — th, reg. of foot’” (367). Similarly, while his visit to New York state is “in part, owing to feeling,” Willoughby also comes back because it “occurred to him that the American property called the Hutted Knoll might prove a timely addition to the ready money he had been able to lay up from his income” (369). Young Willoughby’s two decisions — the one in 1776 to travel to England and assume a new identity and the one in 1795 to return to America and add to his growing coffers — are significant and provide the final scene, I would argue, with a spirit of resignation rather than rejuvenation. Much like Cooper’s description of Cole’s final canvas, one portraying: the “poet [lighting] the beholder to the tomb of Empire, and [giving] him voiceless solitude, in which to hear, from mournful ruins and triumphant nature, ‘the moral of the strain,’” (Noble 174). Wyandotté ends with a similar moral. If America hopes to fulfill its destiny, it must embark upon its errand with the knowledge that, as Thomas Cole himself observed, “We are still in Eden, the wall that shuts us out of the garden is our own ignorance and folly” (109). For young Bob Willoughby, what might have been an opportunity for him to forge a new beginning in the growing nation becomes instead another opportunity for him to compromise rather than to embrace and to regenerate his father’s settlement. In the end, it is Michael O’Hearn and Reverend Woods, not Bob Willoughby and his wife, who “pass the remainder of [their] days at the Knoll, which was to be, and in time, was, renovated under their joint care” (374). Both Captain Willoughby’s and his son’s “ignorance and folly” are responsible far this ending, one that demonstrates Cooper’s belief that past and present are finally incompatible because of the human propensity for expediency and self-interest.

This ending also helps explain Cooper’s attempt to redefine the pattern of American history in his novels of the 1840s. William P. Kelly has treated this issue most recently in his study of the Leatherstocking Tales. Maintaining that Cooper reshaped his historical and narrative strategies between the appearance of the first three and the last two tales in the series because he came to recognize the logical inconsistencies in his initial conception of America’s growth, Kelly argues that contrary to a “long standing critical assumption, the thrust of that development leads him away from the wistful dual vision of the initial volumes of the series” and causes him to abandon the “reassuring contrivances of those [earlier] tales” and confront instead the “limits of history” (viii). Kelly’s efforts to free the series from the restrictions of a mythic reading (one accompanied by an easy resolution of narrative tensions) and to restore their historiographic dimension (one denying any resolution of those tensions) also explains why Cooper created a cyclic paradigm in Wyandotté. Published within two years of the final Leatherstocking volume, Wyandotté occupies a similar place in Cooper’s Revolutionary works as the last of his war novels. James Franklin Beard has already argued that Wyandotté is significantly different from Cooper’s earlier Revolutionary tales by regarding it as an “impressive study of historical forces at work in the hierarchical backwoods society at the beginning of the Revolution and a compelling portrait of man as victim of dark, inscrutable forces inside and outside himself, forces whose justice he cannot comprehend, but whose moral nature is evident. The theme has tragic and, of course, universal implications” (“Mythos” 102). Beard’s interpretation is quite correct and signals a definite change in Cooper’s attitude toward the Revolution as history. Cooper recognized those “dark and inscrutable forces,” and by the 1840s he concluded that Americans could not hope to escape their past because they were morally insensitive and, therefore, incapable of understanding the historical changes taking place in their country. It is this history lesson that Cooper teaches us in Wyandotté, and it is from Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire, a painting that “deeply affected” him, that he most certainly borrowed the theme, the pictorial techniques, and the design necessary to articulate this cyclic paradigm for his readers.

Works Cited

  • Axelrad, Allen M. “The Order of the Leatherstocking Tales: D. H. Lawrence, David Noble, and the Iron Trap of History.” American Literature 54 (1982): 189-211.
  • Beard, James Franklin. “Cooper and His Artistic Contemporaries.” New York History 35 (1954): 480-95.
  • ------. “Cooper and the Revolutionary Mythos.” Early American Literature 11 (1976): 84-104.
  • Callow, James T. Kindred Spirits: Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1807-1855. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.
  • Cole, Thomas. “Essay in American Scenery.” American Art, 1700-1960. Ed. John McCoubrey. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1965.
  • Cooper, James Fenimore. The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper. 6 vols. Ed. James Franklin Beard. Belknap-Harvard University Press, 1960-68.
  • ------. Wyandotté, or The Hutted Knoll. Ed. Thomas and Marianne Philbrick. Albany: SUNY Press, 1982.
  • Franklin, Wayne. The New World of James Fenimore Cooper. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
  • Jones, Howard Mumford. “Prose and Pictures: James Fenimore Cooper.” Tulane Studies in English 3 (1953): 133-54.
  • Kelly, William P. Plotting America’s Past: Fenimore Cooper and the Leatherstocking Tales. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984.
  • McWilliams, John P. Jr. Political Justice in a Republic: James Fenimore Cooper’s America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.
  • Nevius, Blake. Cooper’s Landscapes: An Essay on the Picturesque Vision. Berkeley: U California Press, 1976.
  • Noble, Louis Legrande. The Life and Works of Thomas Cole. Ed. Elliott S. Vesell. Cambridge: Belknap-Harvard University Press, 1964.
  • Novak, Barbara. Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
  • Peck, H. Daniel. A World By Itself: The Pastoral Moment in Cooper’s Fiction. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.
  • Philbrick, Thomas. James Fenimore Cooper and the Development of American Sea Fiction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961.
  • Ringe, Donald. “James Fenimore Cooper and Thomas Cole: An Analogous Technique.” American Literature 30 (1958): 28-36.
  • ------. The Pictorial Made: Space and Time in the Art of Bryant Irving and Cooper. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1971.


1 Beard’s findings, which did not appear in print until three years after his address, emphasize the development of a national sensibility in American arts and letters. In establishing this relationship between Cooper and his artistic contemporaries, Beard points out that “they were all moved by the same esthetic impulse, discovery of hitherto unsuspected values in American life and landscape, a discovery which brought the arts closer together” (481). Beard also explains the importance of this common impulse and demonstrates that many of the “landscapes, portraits of manners, and scenes of action ready for the brush” (485) in Cooper’s novels were inspired by and modeled after the paintings of the Hudson River School artists.

2 Donald Ringe establishes the closest connections by demonstrating the structural and thematic parallels between The Course of Empire and The Crater. Pointing out that each of the paintings in the series represents a stage in the history of the society of The Crater, and that Cooper modeled the design of the novel after those five stages, Ringe acknowledges that “There can be little doubt that Cooper derived the technique from the paintings of Thomas Cole, that here we have a specific instance of the influence of the painter on the novelists” (30). Ringe also argues that “so much alike are their works in both form and content that one wonders if perhaps we may have here an example of at least an indirect or subconscious influence. Cooper himself certainly saw the relation of his novel The Crater to Cole’s The Course of Empire, but whether or not he was equally aware of other parallels we can, of course, only conjecture” (36). Besides Ringe, Thomas Philbrick demonstrates the structural and thematic similarities between Cole’s four-part The Voyage of Life (1838-18110) and Cooper’s The Sea Lions (1849), hut he admits that only the second and third paintings are relevant to the novel (234-49). Likewise, Allen M. Axelrad argues that the five stages of The Course of Empire parallel the five novels in the Leatherstocking Tales and reveal the order in which Cooper intended them to be read, but his analysis describes the design of the entire series and not the structure of one novel.

3 During the seven years between the appearance of The Course of Empire and Wyandotté, Cooper published seven other novels: Homeward Bound (1838), Home as Found (1838) The Pathfinder (1840), Mercedes of Castile (1840), The Deerslayer (1841), The Two Admirals (1842), and The Wing-and-Wing (1842). Although these novels illustrate various Hudson River pictorial techniques, none clearly demonstrates Cooper’s use of Cole’s paintings to inform theme and structure.

4 Much of Novak’s discussion of the relationship between art and literature can be profitably applied to Cooper, but Chapter I is especially germane to my study.

5 In Chapter XII of Home as Found (1838), Cooper also described the stages in the progress of a new society as tripartite. However, these three stages do not reflect the cyclic nature of Wyandotté. They obscure and diffuse the effect of both the founding and desertion of the Hutted Knoll, and they do not take into consideration the fact that, Wyandotté ends where it began — in the unsettled wilderness of colonial New York State.