James Fenimore Cooper


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The Early Years

Wayne Franklin

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The authoritative biography of James Fenimore Cooper, author of the Leather-Stocking Tales and representative figure of the early American republic

"For Franklin, Cooper wasn't just a major American writer; he was one of the supreme inventors of the American imagination."—Christopher Benfey, New Republic

James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851) invented the key forms of American fiction—the Western, the sea tale, the Revolutionary War romance. Furthermore, Cooper turned novel writing from a polite diversion into a paying career. He influenced Herman Melville, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Francis Parkman, and even Mark Twain—who felt the need to flagellate Cooper for his “literary offenses.” His novels mark the starting point for any history of our environmental conscience. Far from complicit in the cleansings of Native Americans that characterized the era, Cooper’s fictions traced native losses to their economic sources. Perhaps no other American writer stands in greater need of a major reevaluation than Cooper. This is the first treatment of Cooper’s life to be based on full access to his family papers. Cooper’s life, as Franklin relates it, is the story of how, in literature and countless other endeavors, Americans in his period sought to solidify their political and cultural economic independence from Britain and, as the Revolutionary generation died, stipulate what the maturing republic was to become. The first of two volumes, James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years covers Cooper’s life from his boyhood up to 1826, when, at the age of thirty-six, he left with his wife and five children for Europe.

American author James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851) has been credited with inventing and popularizing a wide variety of genre fiction, including the Western, the spy novel, the high seas adventure tale, and the Revolutionary War romance. America’s first crusading novelist, Cooper reminds us that literature is not a cloistered art; rather, it ought to be intimately engaged with the world.  

"Wayne Franklin single-handedly restores Cooper to his rightful place in American literature. . . . A towering achievement."—H. Daniel Peck, author of Thoreau's Morning Work         

“No one has ever written a biography of Cooper that answers as many questions, raises as many important historical issues, or provides as much detail of the life of Cooper and his family or of much of New York history in the late eighteenth century or the first half of the nineteenth century. The publication of Franklin’s biography is a major event.”—Jeffrey Walker, Oklahoma State University 

"[A] deeply satisfying first volume of a definitive biography. . . . This volume profoundly enriches our understanding of how the young writer helped forge our national mythology in works such as The Last of the Mohicans and The Pioneers. Appreciative readers will eagerly await the second and concluding volume."—Booklist

"Dulled since Mark Twain's literary lampoon, Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses, Cooper's once-glowing reputation is finally returned to luster with this magnificent study by Franklin. . . . Franklin's research—there are 152 pages of notes for this volume alone—is staggering. . . . Geared toward educated adults, this is also a good choice for those looking for an introduction to Cooper's life and work. Highly recommended."—Library Journal 

"Alone among American writers, Cooper has never been the subject of a full-dress biography. . . . Mr. Franklin's scholarly mandate is clear: Marshal a welter of material long denied to Cooper scholars, introduce new information, amend long-held misconceptions about the novelist's life and times. On this score, Mr. Franklin succeeds brilliantly. . . . Scrupulously researched and copiously footnoted. . . . Mr. Franklin shapes this exhaustive catalog of detail into a compelling narrative."—William Kelly, New York Sun 

"…despite his immense significance, “Cooper remains, more than 200 years after his birth, the last major figure in early American culture lacking a full biography… Now, thankfully, with the appearance of this first part of what will be a two-volume biography of Cooper, Wayne Franklin is halfway to making magnificent amends. It is a wonderful achievement, exhaustively detailed, subtle and judicious and, when it matters, properly partisan. It is a defence and a vindication of America’s first great novelist in the face of continuing blindness and condescension."---Alan Marshall, The Daily Telegraph

"[A] leisurely and deeply researched canvassing of the first half of Cooper's life. . . . For Franklin, Cooper wasn't just a major American writer; he was one of the supreme inventors of the American imagination. . . . The book is clearly and sometimes vigorously written, and scrupulous about what is firmly known and what remains conjectured. Much of the research into lesser-known portions of Cooper's career is sensible and fresh."—Christopher Benfey, New Republic

"This lucid and informative first volume of [a] planned two-volume biography . . . follows Cooper from birth to his departure for Europe in 1826 following the publication of The Last of the Mohicans. The author had full access to Cooper's family's papers. . . . One can only look forward to the completion of this substantial biography. Highly recommended."—Choice

"Franklin creatively and convincingly weaves episodes from Cooper's fiction into the story of his life, demonstrating, in many instances, where the novelist's inspiration came from. This is a richly detailed treatment, encompassing political as well as literary affairs, and a short review cannot do it justice. Anyone interested in examining James Fenimore Cooper's republican credentials will find this book an immensely satisfying read."—Andrew Burstein, The Journal of American History

This first volume about James Fenimore Cooper by Wayne Franklin opens the reader's eyes to the world of a man who single-handedly invented the American mythology through frontier stories and sea stories. He painted the vision of Native Americans that showed their losses at the hands of white Europeans with understanding rather than caricature. Franklin delves deeply into the family papers to give his audience a view of the writer and the man. One can only hope that he does for the later years what he has done here for the early years."—Hilary Albert,University Press Books (Outstanding title for 2008)

"A long overdue contribution to American scholarship, James Fenimore Cooper is essential for understanding Cooper and the early years of the American republic."—William L. Howard, Magill's Literary Annual 2008

"A remarkable feat of scholarship and literary imagining. . . . Franklin's book is meticulously researched and wonderfully comprehensive. A biography of this subtlety of depth has been well worth waiting for."—Hugh Egan, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"The biography is an engaging, well written account of an important time, place, and career in American literary history. It surprises, informs, and challenges the reader, and should be on the reading list of any early or nineteenth-century Americanist."—Rocky Mountain Review

"Franklin's authoritative biography offers a richly crafted narrative of Cooper's life and times while providing a major revaluation of his literary and historical significance. . . . Although the biography is monumental in scope . . . Franklin is a gifted storyteller who manages the details of his subject with a graceful and seemingly effortless command.  It promises to set the standard for a new era in Cooper studies and history of the book studies, and will find grateful readers from a host of backgrounds." —Robert Gunn, Historian

Selected as an Outstanding Academic Title, 2008 AAUP University Press Book for Public and Secondary School Libraries.

Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title from 2008.
ISBN: 9780300108057
Publication Date: June 19, 2007
752 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
20 b/w ills in gallery
James Fenimore Cooper

The Later Years

Wayne Franklin

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