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MonkeyNotes-The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Author Information

James Fenimore Cooper is one of America's best-known early writers. In fact, Cooper may have shaped America's individuality and sense of nationhood more than any author before or after him. Through his writing about the sagas of hardy frontier men, he helped to instill a sense of history to the foundling nation. His heroes, especially Hawkeye, still embody the American spirit of rugged individualism.

James Fenimore Cooper was born in 1789. He grew up in a highly influential family in upper New York State. His father, a famous congressman and judge and a very close acquaintance of George Washington, settled the town of Cooperstown, New York. Judge Cooper was a controversial figure and was murdered by a political opponent in 1809.

James Fenimore Cooper was the eleventh of twelve children in the family. He entered Yale at the age of thirteen, but was expelled a few years later for some youthful prank. In 1805 he joined a merchant ship bound for Europe and after obtaining his midshipman's warrant served with the US Navy.

Cooper resigned from the Navy following his father's death. In 1811, he married Susan De Lancey. The depression following the war of 1812 made land unsaleable, so for over a decade Cooper struggled to keep his inheritance and support his family. During this time he became involved in a number of projects, which included farming, investing in a frontier store, and buying a whaling ship.


In 1820, he plunged into a literary career, having been challenged by his wife to write a better novel than the one he was reading to her. He wrote Precaution, then followed it by a host of successful books, including The Spy (1821), The Pioneers (1823), Lionel Lincoln (1825) and The Last of the Mohicans (1826). The Pioneers was the first of the Leatherstocking tales, which introduced the popular character of Natty Bumppo, also known as Hawkeye. The Last of the Mohicans turned out to be Cooper's most enduringly popular novel, with a theme revolving around heroism and romance. With this book, he was acknowledged as a major novelist and was he able to clear his debts and go to Europe. For eight years he and his family traveled through France, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany. It was there that he wrote some of his most successful works, The Prairie (1827) and The Red Rover (1828). An extremely knowledgeable man, he wrote on subjects ranging from the existing copyright law to the organization and management of the US Navy. His last successes come with the resurrection of Natty Bumppo in The Pathfinder (1840) and the haunting story, The Deerslayer (1841). Cooper died in 1851 in Cooperstown.

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