Sivils Contributes Article to Critical Anthology on Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Tales
Sivils, Matthew Wynn. “‘Its Ghastly Visage’: The Leather-Stocking Tales and the Grotesque.” In Leather-Stocking Redux. Ed. Jeffrey Walker. New York: AMS Press, 2011. 170-192.
In this article, Sivils argues for a re-evaluation of Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Tales as not only works of historical romance but also as important formative works of American Gothic fiction. He suggests that their Gothic power derives largely from Cooper’s invention of a uniquely American grotesque that demonstrates how violence warps, destroys, and incorporates the human body into the American landscape. He further asserts that Cooper does not so much adopt the Gothic motifs of his European models as transform these motifs into an ever-present, inescapable, and oddly natural grotesque American condition.
From the Publisher’s Website: The ten original essays in this collection, all by internationally known Cooper scholars, offer fresh and original insights into the five Leather-Stocking Tales: The Pioneers (1823), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Prairie (1827), The Pathfinder (1840), and The Deerslayer (1841). Treating the novels individually or commenting on the series as a whole, the contributors address such issues as race, gender, and ethnicity in Cooper’s world and their relationship to ours, as well as scholarly responses to the politics and economics of the early Republic and discussions of the nature of American frontier society in the first half of the nineteenth century.
More specifically, the essays treat race-mixing and the Africanist presence in the Leather-Stocking Tales; Cooper’s role as popular novelist; virtue ethics, literature, and life; Cooper’s portrait of the American man of leisure; the presence of the grotesque in his fiction; and the marketing context of Cooper’s “sixth” Leather-Stocking Tale.
Intended to be used as a companion to a study of Cooper and his Leather-Stocking novels, this collection of lively, informative, and readable essays will encourage serious contemporary discussion of America’s first successful—and at one time most popular—novelist.