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James Fenimore Cooper 英美文学笔记

2010年08月06日  所属:英美文学  来源:上外  作者:英语学院

James Fenimore Cooper 美国文学资料笔记教案、英语专业论文资料参考。

James Fenimore Cooper, whose writing has evoked both admiration and disdain, is considered to be the first true American novelist. His most popular work, The Last of the Mohicans, has remained one of the most widely read novels throughout the world and it, along with the other four novels that make up The Leatherstocking Tales, has tremendously impacted the way many view both the American Indians and the frontier period of American history. The romanticized image of the strong, fearless, and ever resourceful frontiersman (i.e. Natty Bumppo), as well as the stoic, wise, and noble "red man" (i.e. Chingachgook) was borne more from Cooper's characterizations than any other source.
Born in Burlington, New Jersey on September 15, 1789 as James Cooper, the young boy began life with all the advantages of wealth and social prominence. James was one of thirteen children of Judge William Cooper, an early visionary who was able to obtain great financial success despite his own humble beginnings. The judge settled vast tracts of land in Pennsylvania and New York, became a congressman, actively promoted public service, established an expectedly dynastic financial and political family, and founded Cooperstown, NY, which became the boyhood home of James. William Cooper tried to instill in his children an understanding of the financial potential which the young republic had, balanced with his philosophy that with wealth came many responsibilities for the good of others (he was notoriously charitable, some would say, excessively generous). It appeared as though the Cooper family, with such a potentially bright future, could expect to leave a prolific and powerful legacy. Fate though, with its often tragic consequences and unexpected derailments, was waiting to strike. Meanwhile, the Cooper children enjoyed a life of leisurely wonder in upstate New York.
James and his brothers roamed and explored what was then a frontier village with a freedom that most children today would find enviable. The wilds of the forests and mountains beckoned the boys and aroused their unrestrained curiosity. The passion for the wilderness which developed in the wandering lads prompted their sister Hannah to write, "They are very wild and show plainly they have been bred in the woods." It was here in the Hudson River region that James became acquainted with the Indians of central New York state, the art of wilderness survival, the game-bearing Hawkeye prototype who, along with his long rifle and canine companions, visited the Cooper home, and the settlers whose wasteful tendencies disturbed the youth who had fallen in love with the natural beauty of the surrounding wilderness. It was here, during his innocence, the future author developed his sentiments regarding the very things that would later serve as central themes of The Last of the Mohicans.
Cooper attended Yale from 1803 to 1805, a stay that was cut short by the school's invitation that he leave. It is probable that he would have gone instead to Princeton had his older brother not been expelled in 1802 due to his being the most likely culprit in the burning of Nassau Hall. Mischievous behavior appears to have been a family trait. Though James is not known to have burned down any buildings at Yale, the school's request for his premature departure was the result of a series of pranks and violent confrontations. Perhaps Hannah was accurate in her description of her wild brothers.
Hannah, the pride of the family, who had penned her words in 1798, died two years later of injuries received by falling off a horse. Perhaps this loss, along with the events surrounding the capture and murder of Jane McRae, influenced Cooper's creation of Cora and Alice whom he presents as delicate and vulnerable. Nine years later, in 1809, Cooper's father died. The sudden death of the patriarch was devastating and the family soon began to unravel. During the years 1813 to 1819, Cooper lost four brothers to tragic deaths. Overlapping this period of sorrow was yet more hardship for those who were left. Financial ruin began to run its course in 1817 and continued through 1823, virtually wiping out the once substantial holdings of the Coopers. Their wealth dwindled away as a series of judgments against the estate, along with the apparently poor management by the surviving brothers who in turn acted as executors, all took their toll. Eventually, only James and a sister were left, the sole survivors of a family whose fortune was rapidly transformed into misfortune. The dynastic legacy that once seemed so certain was not to be. The resulting void was painfully felt by James and soon became a dominant theme in his life, one which would permeate his thoughts and later, his novels. Despite the enormity of the successive tragedies, Cooper was spared total ruin through the accidental discovery of his literary talents. This new twist of fate couldn't have come at a better time.
As heir to what was left of the family's possessions, Cooper also inherited the huge debt that accompanied it. Faced with the impossible demands of creditors and having very little income, the gentleman farmer had the good luck of reading a bad book. His dislike of the novel so irritated him that he boasted to his wife that he could do better. Her response was that he should prove it, and consequently, James Cooper, at the age of thirty, unexpectedly embarked upon a successful literary career. (NOTE: FOR FURTHER DISCUSSION ON COOPER'S WRITING OF MOHICANS READ COOPER, CHALLENGES & CAVES, as well as the follow-up post.)

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