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By David Morse

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Additional info for American Romanticism: Volume 1: From Cooper to Hawthorne

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Yet, to tell the truth, Cooper's fiction persists through its very hyperbole, as he conjures up for the reader scenes of irresistible 46 American Romanticism freedom, innocence and glamour. In the Leatherstocking novels Cooper is able to celebrate both the law and those who live beyond it, but in his sea fiction there can be no doubt where his sympathies lie. What Cooper relishes is space for the individual to carve out his own destiny, as much for Natty Bumppo as for the Skimmer of the Seas. The Leatherstocking Tales occupy a peculiarly important position in Cooper's work, for reasons that are at first sight difficult to understand.

And yet it has a certain justice. This is not simply because it is possible to think of the Leatherstocking Tales as superior or because the figure of Natty Bumppo has struck and continues to strike certain peculiarly American cultural resonances, but rather because ofCooper's unevenness as a writer. Cooper is uneven not simply from work to work, an eventuality which very few writers have found it possible to escape, but within the pages of virtually every single novel. Over and over again we find passages of a striking beauty and lyricism, scenes of great power, dignity and imaginative complexity alternating with prolix and cumbersome attempts at suspense and retardation, forced and unconvincing humour and local colour, language that is tortuous, sententious, often inappropriate in style, nearly buckling under the weight of technicalities and literary cliches.

They are also 'experimental' in the sense in which that word was understood in the America of the 1840s and 1850s, in that they demonstrate by striking example that our sense ofhuman possibility can be enlarged. The excessive is a redefinition of the norm. 2 Fenimore Cooper: the Excessive Pathfinder Cooper is the most disconcerting of novelists. His fiction is strident, hectoring and didactic, yet the reader is disarmed, not to say anaesthetised, by his prolix, cumbersome and apparently purposeless narration.

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