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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 30

respect The Pioneers falls behind its predecessors in interest: it has no definite scheme of pursuit and flight, and consequently, though it has certain thrilling moments, no general suspense. But in another respect it was a more important experiment than The Spy: now for the first time Cooper had set himself to the realistic representation of American manners. Dealing as he did with the Otsego settlement where his boyhood had been spent, and with a time (1793) partly within his memory, he could write largely with his eye upon the fact. Whatever romance there is in the story lies less in its plot, which is a conventional story of a worthy line for the moment dispossessed but eventually to be restored again; or in its characters, which are, for the most part, studied under a dry light with a good deal of caustic judgment—less in these things than in the essential wonder of a pioneer life. In its costumes and gestures the novel is not as heroic as The Spy. Indian John, the last of his proud race, is old and broken, corrupted by the settlements; only his death dignifies him. Natty Bumppo, a composite from many Cooperstown suggestions but in his main outlines undoubtedly suggested by Daniel Boone, is nobler than Indian John because he has not yielded but carries into the deeper forest his virtues, which even in Cooper’s boyhood were becoming archaic along the New York frontier, and now in 1823 had become a legend. Natty stands as a protest, on behalf of simplicity and perfect freedom, against encroaching law and order. In The Pioneers he is not of the proportions which he later assumed, and only at the end, when he withdraws from the field of his defeat by civilization, does he make his full



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