first successful American novelist, James Fenimore Cooper
was born on September 15, 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey. He
was the son of a judge. A year after his birth, the family moved
to Cooperstown, New York, a frontier settlement near Otsego
Lake, where his wealthy father owned large amounts of land.
Cooper was sent to
Yale at the age of thirteen, but was expelled for pranks, which
included training a donkey to sit in a professor’s chair.
He became a sailor in the merchant marine, and then as a midshipman
in the U.S. navy.
In 1809, Cooper inherited
his father’s wealth. Two years later he married Susan
DeLancey and settled down as a gentleman farmer. His first novel
was Precaution (1820), about English high society. The novel
was a failure, but he followed it with The Spy (1821), a historical
romance of the American Revolution, and this brought him fame
Giving up his life
as a farmer, Cooper moved to New York City to continue his career
as a writer. After writing many successful sea tales, he published
the frontier adventure, The Pioneers (1823), which turned out
to be the first of the five books known collectively as the
Leather-Stocking Tales. All of these featured the character
Natty Bumppo (also known as Hawkeye and Leather-Stocking). The
Last of the Mohicans (1826) was the second of the Leather-Stocking
Tales. The Deerslayer (1841), The Pathfinder (1840), and The
Prairie (1827) are the others in the series.
Cooper moved to Europe, where he lived in Paris and traveled
extensively. While in Paris he wrote three historical novels
set in medieval Europe, as well as books about democracy, politics
and society. On his return to the United States in 1833, he
continued to write, but also became involved in many legal squabbles
with the press. Disliking what he saw as the decline of American
democracy, he acquired conservative views and became known as
Cooper died on September 14, 1851, the day before his sixty-second
birthday. The Leather-Stocking Tales continued to be read and
admired long after his death. In the twentieth century, The
Last of the Mohicans, the most popular of the tales, was made
into several films, most recently in Michael Mann's 1992 version,
and a television series.