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Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Language and Literature

First Advisor

Clair C Olson

First Committee Member

Lawrence J Osborne

Second Committee Member

Ruth Marie Faurot

Third Committee Member

Ronald Limbaugh

Fourth Committee Member

Paul Witherington


The following discussion is intended to deal with the theme of social decay as it comes to expression in the last five novels of James Fenimore Cooper.1 The method adopted for realizing this intention is to examine closely the characteristic features of the late novels in order, first, to ascertain the precise nature of the theme of social decay as an intellectual statement and, secondly, to appraise the artistic means chosen for embodying this theme in the individual books. Hence the primary emphasis of the investigation lies with the thematic study of the source, that is with the novels themselves considered both as intellectual documents and as works of literary art.

Before undertaking the thematic interpretation of the late fiction, however, one must consider first the major problem presented by the low esteem in which the last five works have often held in critical circles since the time of their first publication.2 This problem is important because the quasi-official estimate of these works implies that they do not merit serious critical attention. Seen from this perspective, the late novels are insignificant works that merely restate with didactic clumsiness a social philosophy previously expressed in Cooper's fiction with considerable artistic success. The investigator therefore must attempt to ascertain at the outset whether this established appraisal of the late fiction is essentially accurate in its main outlines or whether the conventional view requires substantial modification. In order to illuminate this problem, the following two questions will be treated in this introductory chapter: First, among critics of Cooper, how widespread has been the tendency to depreciate these five novels? Secondly, what is the basis, the critical rationale, for both the unfavorable and the comparatively sympathetic evaluations of the late tales? Hopefully, the discussion of these questions will help not only to justify a new study of Cooper's last tales but also to indicate the need for a more flexible approach to the criticism of the fiction published during the novelist's last years.





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