James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years.
Yale University Press, 752 pages, $40
The reputation of James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851) probably never recovered from Mark Twain’s hilarious demolition of his work in “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” (1895). The Deerslayer, Twain wrote in one of his milder passages, was simply the product of “a literary delirium tremens.” Or again: “In the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.” But Twain was hardly alone. In fact, Cooper has had the distinction of attracting a long line of critics who have dilated on his mediocre writing and unsavory personal life.
Wayne Franklin endeavors to redress the balance with this seven-hundred-page, four- pound...