The Last of the Mohicans
Philadelphia: H. C. Carey and I. Lea, 1826.
Philadelphia: H. C. Carey and I. Lea, 1826. First edition. An attractive set in original drab paper-covered boards (rebacked to style). All internal contents including end papers original, some paper repairs to the margins. Pages untrimmed (of varying sizes, as issued). Moderate foxing throughout (heavier in volume 2), as is almost universal with unwashed copies of this book. With all points noted in BAL. A pleasing example.
One of the most popular and prolific American authors of the 19th century, Cooper's novels tackled themes that were of great concern in America's frontier expansion and the resulting conflicts between settler colonials and indigenous peoples. Remembered particularly for The Leatherstocking Tales, a group of five novels following the life of frontiersman Natty Bumppo, of which The Last of the Mohicans is the second. Set during the French and Indian War, the novel takes place mostly in upstate New York, and centers on the journey of Cora and Alice Munro, the daughters of British Colonel George Munro, who are traveling to the safety of Fort William Henry. The threat of violence hovers over the party from the opening pages. Alice and Cora travel with an evolving cast of characters, including British soldiers, indigenous scouts, and the famous frontiersman Natty Bumppo. Tenuous alliances make for uneasy traveling conditions, as Cooper's characters are never quite sure whom to trust.
Cooper's novels played a part in establishing popular and problematic caricatures of indigenous peoples, especially the pervasive myth that indigenous people were disappearing from the early American landscape. Notably, Cooper writes in the Introduction to The Last of the Mohicans that "The whole of that wilderness, in which the latter incidents of the legend occurred, is nearly a wilderness still, though the red man has entirely deserted this part of the state. Of all the tribes named in these pages, there exist only a few half-civilized beings of the Oneidas, on the reservations of their people in New York. The rest have disappeared, either from the regions in which their fathers dwelt, or altogether from the earth." While a celebrated and admired adventure, The Last of the Mohicans also constructed a world in which indigenous people no longer played a part, causing a rhetorical invisibility that fed into the violence of western expansion as well. Readers and scholars alike grapple with the legacy of Cooper's works. Numerous film adaptations, particularly one with Daniel Day-Lewis cast as Natty Bumppo, keep these debates about history alive. (Item #4817)