Cooper's most enduringly popular novel combines heroism and romance with powerful criticism of the destruction of nature and tradition.
Set against the French and Indian siege of Fort William Henry in 1757, The Last of the Mohicans recounts the story of two sisters, Cora and Alice Munro, daughters of the English commander, who are struggling to be reunited with their father. They are aided in their perilous journey by Hawk-eye, a frontier scout and his companions Chingachgook and Uncas, the only two survivors of the Mohican tribe. But their lives are endangered by the Mangua, the savage Indian traitor who captures the sisters, wanting Cora to be his squaw. In setting Indian against Indian and the brutal society of the white man against the civilization of the Mohican, Cooper, more than any author before or since, shaped the American sense of itself as a nation.
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About the Author
James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) grew up at Otsego Hall, his father’s manorial estate near Lake Otsego in upstate New York. Educated at Yale, he spent five years at sea, as a foremast hand and then as a midshipman in the navy. At thirty he was suddenly plunged into a literary career when his wife challenged his claim that he could write a better book that the English novel he was reading to her. The result was Precaution (1820), a novel of manners. His second book, The Spy (1821), was an immediate success, and with The Pioneers (1823) he began his series of Leatherstocking Tales. By 1826 when The Last of the Mohicans appeared, his standing as a major novelist was clearly established. From 1826 to 1833 Cooper and his family lived and traveled in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany. Two of his most successful works, The Prairie and The Red Rover, were published in 1827. He returned to Otsego Hall in 1834, and after a series of relatively unsuccessful books of essays, travel sketches, and history, he returned to fiction – and to Leatherstocking – with The Pathfinder (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841). In his last decade he faced declining popularity brought on in part by his waspish attacks on critics and political opponents. Just before his death in 1851 an edition of his works led to a reappraisal of his fiction and somewhat restored his reputation as the first of American writers.
"[Cooper's] sympathy is large, and his humor is as genuine -- and as perfectly unaffected -- as his art." - Joseph Conrad