Prompt: “How fair was Twain’s critique of Cooper’s literary style?”
James Fenimore Cooper was an American writer in the early 19th century. His most famous works include The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer. Cooper had an extreme fondness of nature, and he describes it throughout much of his work. He was a romantic, and instead of sticking to a grounded plot his stories often followed a character as they simply meandered through the woods.
Mark Twain, most famous for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, absolutely tore into Coopers work to the extent that many couldn’t read it the same afterwards. Twain was a skeptic, and Coopers romantic flowery descriptions weren’t nearly enough for Twain to overlook the holes in Coopers plots.
An example of this is a scene where a large boat is moving slowly down the river. Natives are hiding in the trees and attempt to jump upon the boat, but all of them fail. The boat isn’t moving fast, they just simply miss. Another example is when Deerslayer is able to shoot a fly from far away. Twain points out that he must truly have a hawks eye.
It’s details like this that Twain wrote his scathing review about, little plot holes that really rubbed him wrong. He described the language of Deerslayer as poetic eloquence combined with strange country bumpkin vernacular, and says that it kills the story.
In Deerslayer the main characters are rather humorless, and they are meandering without any real motivation or intent. But I didn’t personally mind it, the descriptive language used by Cooper paints a vivid picture that the two leads move through. I think there should be a place for this kind of meditative literature. Twain wholeheartedly disagrees, but I believe that not every story needs to be a daring adventure or have a grand lesson. It’s not for everyone, but sometimes just a walk in the woods with ones thoughts is enough. Whether they be serious or flowery, poetic or unbelievable.
The Deerslayer gives us just that, the legend of a man whos life is walking through the woods with his thoughts. Some parts seem to be more myth than history, but the book never claims to be nonfiction. The nature is painted brilliantly with words that make it rise up from nothingness like the mountains that rose from the sea. Sometimes its good not to hurry through, but instead take some time to enjoy the scenery and simply meander.