Mark twain essay on james fenimore cooper - Amanda Read
Our purpose here has been to disentangle the authentic text of The Deerslayer from the legends surrounding it, the misperceptions having accrued over decades because of Twain's hilarious essay and having contributed to a critical tradition that often damns Cooper with the faintest of praise. An almost immediate response to Twain's attack ensued, as is evident from the well-meaning essays of Maulsby and Hannigan. These well-intentioned and generally accurate defenses notwithstanding, Twain's humor won the day, and his brassy exaggerations and explosive irreverence led to a tradition of evaluating Cooper by citing his "offenses," an assessment inattentive to Cooper's actual plots, his character portrayals, and his textual modifications. Fortified by the assumptions of Realism, Twain's assault on the Romantic house of fiction took dead aim at these supposed defects in plot, characterization, and style. If Cooper's fictional edifice has weathered the storm, it is largely the result of his excellence in these three categories that Twain so gleefully dismissed, a consequence of some readers following Cooper's narrative rather than Twain's partial and distorted version of it. It is, nevertheless, a tribute to Twain that his comic masterpiece has more than survived, but flourished, often obscuring the legitimate features of its object of attack. "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" has survived, for its willful fabrications, hilarious exaggerations, and satirical intent aside, the rest of the essay, if we may borrow Twain's phrasing, is art.
Mark twain essay on james fenimore cooper
In 1897, Maulsby defended Cooper's characters, singling out Natty Bumppo, a figure hardly mentioned in Twain's attack. Cooper's hero, according to Maulsby, represented a "man, who is confessedly the creation of romance, yet whose life is more real to thousands than is many an historic character.... Nor are touches lacking in the minor characters to attest the author's adherence to the broad lines of nature." By asserting that Natty seems real, even though he is the hero of a romance, and that Cooper's portrayal of characters is truthful, Maulsby shows his awareness of the animosity of the Realists towards the writers of romance. But as Krause suggests, Twain's intent was not merely to defend Realism against romance; his purpose, rather, was to declare an unequivocal winner in the battle. While a Realist like Howells would take arms and "bang the babes of romance about" in critical essays, Twain's weapons were satire and ridicule. Attacking the unrelieved solemnity of characters in sentimental fiction, his irreverence also chipped away at the secure solidity of a literary canon into which, Twain feared, Cooper was being ensconced by the likes of Brander Matthews.
. All quotations from Twain's 1895 essay derive from the text in Literary Essays, in The Writings of Mark Twain (New York: Harpers, 1899), 22:83-95. Twain completed another essay on Cooper, the second essay edited by Bernard De Veto under the title, "Fenimore Cooper's Further Literary Offences," New England Quarterly, 19 (September 1946): 291-301. Subsequently reprinted in Letters from the Earth (New York: Harper & Row, 1962) under the title "Cooper's Prose Style"(pp. 135-145), the second essay uses a comic persona, a dimwitted authority on Cooper's artistry.