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 Leath­erstocking series as a touchstone to ex­plore pre-Civil War America’s perception of its past.


Kelly’s historiographic approach to the Tales marks a significant departure from previous critical commentary on the sto­ries: Other critics have centered either on the Tales’ mythological status, on their relevance for an understanding of Jack­sonian America, or on their aesthetic preconceptions. Kelly begins his innova­tive 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 docu­ments as diverse as John Winthrop’s Jour­nal, the Declaration of Independence, Emerson’s Essays, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, America is imagined as simul­taneously free and bound, as a nation at once independent from history and or­ganically linked to centuries of human development. Kelly shows that Cooper’s 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 devel­opment 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.