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The last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore…

The last of the Mohicans (original 1826; edition 1984)

by James Fenimore Cooper

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Title:The last of the Mohicans
Authors:James Fenimore Cooper
Info:Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader's Digest Association, c1984.
Collections:Your library
Tags:children's literature

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The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (1826)



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I haven't read James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans since high school and thought it would interesting to revisit, especially after seeing the move starring Daniel Day-Lewis. It certainly kept me reading, but it won't become a favorite for several reasons. Cooper seems to have been a man with a chip on his shoulder; his preface is rather combative and if you wish to see a snub there, you may.

I'm sure other reviewers have covered the racism angle of this story more thoroughly than I wish to. I'll just say, it's there but it's not unmitigated. Chingachgook and Uncas are certainly portrayed as heroes, and the rich figurative speeches Cooper puts in the mouths of all the Indian characters is simply beautiful. Not all the white characters are good, either; Montcalm comes in for some well-deserved reproach. But overall, if you want to enjoy this you have to overlook a lot.

And it's not just the racist undertones that you have to overlook. The improbable disguises that our heroes assume, dashing in and out of hostile villages without being recognized, stretch credulity just a bit far and render the story awkward. The heroines are, of course, astonishingly beautiful and delicate females whose small feet are noted several times as a sign of pure breeding. Cora has some backbone, but she seems a little unreal.

The movie is almost unrecognizable from its source. The love interests are thoroughly mixed up, people die who survived and survive who died, and by raising Hawk-eye to such prominence over his Delaware companions, the filmmakers caused the name of the film to no longer make much sense. And what a pity there was no room for the humor of David Gamut's character! In comparing the book to the film, there's some irony to be found in Cooper's preface, in which he says, "...it is a very unsafe experiment either for a writer or a projector to trust to the inventive powers of anyone but himself." How many other authors whose works have been adapted into films could say the same? At least it has a lovely soundtrack.

I see why this tale is still read and enjoyed, and I wouldn't say no to reading more of Cooper's stories. But it's flawed. ( )
1 vote wisewoman | Nov 10, 2015 |
I decided to pick up this "classic" after I finished reading William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic -- an excellent history of the Cooper family.

William Cooper (James Fenimore Cooper's father) was one of those rogues who, after many New York State Loyalists fled to Canada or England after the American Revolutionary War, took advantage of the ensuing chaos to make claims (often of dubious legal standing) on their "abandoned" property.

From his start as a barely-literate wheelwright, the elder Cooper became one of the era's prominent land speculators -- and, by the standards of the time, enormously rich. And Cooperstown, NY, was the eponymous capital of his primary holding through the Otsego Patent. There the elder Cooper built a mansion and ran for political office, and also tried to re-fashion himself as an aristocrat. After he died, his children continued to live the high life for another few years. Soon his entire estate was bankrupt and auctioned off to pay creditors. James Fenimore Cooper was protected from abject poverty because he had married Susan Augusta DeLancey, the daughter of a wealthy family in Westchester County, NY.

Then James Fenimore Cooper got the idea to write a novel set in Revolutionary-era New York State. The Pioneers (1823) functioned as a retelling of his father's life story -- only with an ending more to James Fenimore's liking than what had happened in real life.

Three years later, James Fenimore Cooper published the second Leatherstocking Tale, The Last of the Mohicans. In this historical romance, Natty Bumppo aligns himself with his loyal Mohican friends Chingachgook and Uncas and works as a scout in the British army during the French and Indian War.

Afterwards, the Cooper family moved to Europe and lived in France, Switzerland, Belgium, and England for the next 7 years from 1826 to 1833. Cooper announced his retirement from writing fiction after his return to the U.S. in 1833, but had to resume writing in 1838 due to financial strain.

Ian Watt, in his famous The Rise of the Novel, correlates the 18th-century burgeoning of novelistic production with the growing demand for at-home entertainment by women who had been liberated from traditional household tasks and had too much time on their hands. In a straightforward way, the novel rose in England in the 18th century from the ashes of boredom. Amid dramatic social changes caused by the Industrial Revolution arose a romanticism for earlier times, when lives were "as they should be", and an equal but opposite romanticism about the brave or lucky individuals who transcended their expected fates, such as Henry Fielding's Tom Jones. This extended into the early 19th century, when social changes intensified and Romanticism reached its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. The Last of the Mohicans was written during the peak Romantic period.

I feel Cooper wrote this novel for that particular audience and purpose -- to help the bored conquer boredom through a different yet continual form of boredom.

The plot of The Last of the Mohicans looks compulsively straightforward. Like typical American novels in the 1820s, it was published in two volumes, and in each volume the heroines are kidnapped and later rescued. Most of the story occurs in the archetypal world of (Indian) villains who abduct (white) heroines and (white) heroes who rescue them, which is reminiscent of the "captivity narratives" written by 17th-century Puritans.

The novel associates the wilderness with humans' visceral desires. Except for Hawkeye, for whom life in the woods is a different and more impervious form of virginity than of Cora or Alice. Hawkeye is a killer, but equally important is the fact that he is not a lover. Michael Mann's 1992 movie adaptation of the novel drastically revises this aspect of Hawkeye's character, but Cooper's original words leave no room for doubt.

The wilderness in this novel is a place of transformation. In the last section, especially, there is a dizzying number of metamorphoses. But the novel refuses to endorse the possibility of racial change through intermarriage, and the racial boundaries are enforced with a vengeance. Duncan reunites with Alice, and this untainted white couple is allowed to survive and marry and inherit the future through their racially unmixed offspring.

Sex and violence, according to the Hollywood cliché, is the most dependable recipe for feeding the appetite of the popular audience. The Last of the Mohicans clearly follows this formula, and perhaps even helps the reader understand why the order of the terms is never reversed -- it's always "sex and violence," but never "violence and sex."

The true story of the Mohicans is one that the U.S. is still reluctant to tell, and repressed almost completely throughout the 19th century as the pioneers moved westward across the continent. On the other hand, Americans loved the story that Cooper tells in The Last of the Mohicans. This novel was Cooper's most popular book and one of the most widely read American novels ever.

Like most of Cooper's novels, especially those he wrote in the first half of his career, The Last of the Mohicans derives from the model of the historical romance that Sir Walter Scott had established in Waverley. The subtitle of Cooper's novel -- A Narrative of 1757 -- echoes Waverley's subtitle, 'Tis Sixty Years Since. Cooper warned mere novel readers that by "narrative" he means historical fact, not imaginative fancy. But The Last of the Mohicans turned out to be merely myth-making which served contemporary readers precisely by replacing history with a story about the inevitable fate of the Indians.

While some of Cooper's sentences sound patronizing, if not racist, to most modern readers, Cooper's books display more respect and admiration for Indian characters like Uncas than was the norm in his culture. In fact, Cooper's depiction of Uncas as such as noble savage opened the floodgates of criticism. Robert Montgomery Bird wrote Nick of the Woods (1837) to expressly contest Cooper's "poetical illusions" and "beautiful unrealities" by describing Indians instead as "ignorant, violent, debased, brutal." Mark Twain made the same argument in Roughing It (1872).

In the final chapter of The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper relieves white American readers from the burden of picturing a political and social future for the country that includes Indians by linking Uncas's death to the doom of his entire race. Neither of the two massacres in the book involves whites killing Indians.

Even as a fantasy, The Last of the Mohicans arises from the brute facts of American history and projects a psychological and socio-historical fantasy onto its dark savages. It could even be considered a response to America's own empire-building.

Victor Hugo once pronounced Cooper "greater than the great master of modern romance." And this verdict was echoed by Balzac and Rudolf Drescher of Germany.

Perhaps those bored housewives (many were probably James Fenimore Cooper's avid fans) passed down this historical romance through the generations and that's how it became a classic.
( )
1 vote sunrise_hues | Jul 8, 2015 |
A classic adventure novel, set in young America in 1757 during the French and Indian War, published in 1826, this is the story of how a Scout, named Hawkeye by his Delaware tribe companions, helps to try to rescue the two daughters of an English colonel who has been forced to surrender his fort to the French forces. After their surrender, the English soldiers and the families are unharmed by the victorious French, but their Native American colleagues are less merciful and a massacre and kidnapping takes place. Hawkeye (aka Natty Bumppo), the Mohicans Chingachgook and his son Uncas, and Duncan Heyward, a British major, embark on a rescue mission to try to save Colonel Munro's daughters, Alice and Cora Munro, from a fate worse than death at the hands of the villainous Huron, Magua. This is an exciting adventure, with scattered episodes of shocking savagery by the Hurons who have sided with the French forces, and occasional acts of nobility and sacrifice by the Delaware and Mohicans of the story. My history is not strong enough to have a sense of how accurately the "Indian" characters are portrayed, but the even-handed way in which they are depicted seems unusual for a white author in 1826. The only thing that marred the story for me was the stiff and archaic language and sentence structure, but it may well be that this was entirely a product of the times and was well-received by readers at the time. It did make the reading of an exciting story a difficult slog for the most part. This particular copy is undated, but there is a handwritten name and probable date: Cleopatra Price, '13 (1913 of course). ( )
  burnit99 | May 28, 2015 |
A perfectly good cheapo edition with two typos and no critical apparatus. The only reason you might want to read a scholarly edition is that regular notes will give you blessed breaks in the text of this appallingly awful novel.

The novel does have merits. If you have come here after reading the Deerslayer you will find something much more readable because Cooper's intrusive authorial voice is budding but not yet in full flower. If this is your first experience of Cooper, I know it's hard to believe, but he actually gets worse. The dialogue is broken but thankfully he makes little attempt to represent Hawkeye's pronouciation.

What you're lacking is anything like the thematic unity of the prequel. There Hawkeye's internal conflict will his ethnic identity is reflected in the plot. There's none of that here. I did find myself wondering a couple of times if Hawkeye was protesting too much and is actually supposed to be mixed race and in denial, but on reflection I think he's just degenerated into a sort of contemptuous racist. I found myself wondering why the Mohicans put up with him. I certainly found it hard to do so.

There are so many examples of unparalleled incompetence but I shall restrict myself to this little diamond from page 301:

“The effect of so strange an echo on David may better be imagined than described.”

Bad enough, but he then proceeds to the end of the chapter, taking a further 71 words to describe the effect. ( )
  Lukerik | May 28, 2015 |
Boriŋ. But ðen I was a kid. ( )
  leandrod | Feb 10, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
… The book was first published in 1826, and conveys the prejudices of the time. This is primarily an adventure story written from a European viewpoint. The "dusky, savage" Huron kidnappers are the villains, and the Mohicans are stereotypically romanticized as courageous and stoic. However, even complimentary comments sometimes indicate underlying prejudice as when… scout Hawkeye observes to Chingachgook, "You are a just man for an Indian." The term "squaw" is used several times.

» Add other authors (467 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Fenimore Cooperprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Churchwell, SarahIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dean, Robertson.Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guthrie, A. B., Jr.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hunt, RobertIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lehtonen, J. V.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McKeever, LarryNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sharp, Joseph HenryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weideman, BillNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, Edward ArthurIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyeth, N.C.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the tolls and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553213296, Mass Market Paperback)

The wild rush of action in this classic frontier adventure story has made The Last of the Mohicans the most popular of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales. Deep in the forests of upper New York State, the brave woodsman Hawkeye (Natty Bumppo) and his loyal Mohican friends Chingachgook and Uncas become embroiled in the bloody battles of the French and Indian War. The abduction of the beautiful Munro sisters by hostile savages, the treachery of the renegade brave Magua, the ambush of innocent settlers, and the thrilling events that lead to the final tragic confrontation between rival war parties create an unforgettable, spine-tingling picture of life on the frontier. And as the idyllic wilderness gives way to the forces of civilization, the novel presents a moving portrayal of a vanishing race and the end of its way of life in the great American forests.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:49 -0400)

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A Mohican brave struggles to protect two English girls from an evil Huron during the French and Indian War in upstate New York.

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Editions: 1400102073, 1400110807

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