Plotting America's past: Fenimore Cooper and The leatherstocking tales

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Southern Illinois University Press, 1983 - Literary Collections - 195 pages
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This is the first book-length study to show how Cooper uses the Leath≠erstocking series as a touchstone to ex≠plore pre-Civil War Americaís perception of its past.

Kellyís historiographic approach to the Tales marks a significant departure from previous critical commentary on the sto≠ries: Other critics have centered either on the Talesí mythological status, on their relevance for an understanding of Jack≠sonian America, or on their aesthetic preconceptions. Kelly begins his innova≠tive study by challenging the assumption that American writers of the eighteenth century lacked native models for their fiction.

He argues that rather than a void, Americans confronted two competing patterns of historical vision. In docu≠ments as diverse as John Winthropís Jour≠nal, the Declaration of Independence, Emersonís Essays, and Lincolnís Second Inaugural, America is imagined as simul≠taneously free and bound, as a nation at once independent from history and or≠ganically linked to centuries of human development. Kelly shows that Cooperís fiction illustrates this characteristic perception of the past with an unparalleled clarity. Neither a defense of tradition nor an assault on entailment, his novels plot American history as a progressive devel≠opment in the continuum of human events and as a departure from that process.

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About the author (1983)

William P. Kelly teaches English at Queens College of the City University of New York.