D. H. Lawrence pulls out the strangeness in the writers he covers in Studies in Classic American Literature, even in writers not commonly considered to be strange, like James Fenimore Cooper.
Five years – can that be right? – five years ago I spent a week writing* about The Deerslayer, launching off of Mark Twain’s “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” into a treatment of Deerslayer as a heroic fantasy novel, albeit one which ends in genocide. At one point, just as an example, a lady in the lake gives the hero a magic rifle. The novel is fascinating, although Cooper’s actual literary flaws, not the amusing ones invented by Twain, are real enough that I have not quite been inspired to try another Cooper novel.
Lawrence does what I did, but at greater length and depth. He read all of Cooper as a child, so he goes as far as devoting a tangled chapter to “Fenimore Cooper’s White Novels” (The Spy and Eve Effingham and so on), before turning to the Leatherstocking novels, Cooper's attempt to use the new-fangled novel to create myth, a big new American myth.
How often in his own novels is Lawrence working on a similar problem? He was doing it in The Rainbow (1915), with his earth mothers and archetypes and so on, I can see that now even at the distance of 25 years. I sure did not see it then.
Lawrence see Cooper groping towards this idea, with the five novels moving in “a decrescendo of reality, and a crescendo of beauty” (55), although he still calls the first one, The Pioneers, “[a] very lovely book.” “The most fascinating Leatherstocking book is the last, Deerslayer” (65). I just wrote that up above. Lawrence is always ahead of me.
It is a gem of a book. Or a bit of perfect paste. And myself, I like a bit of perfect paste in a perfect setting, so long as I am not fooled by pretence of reality. And the setting of Deerslayer could not be more exquisite. Lake Champlain again. (66)
Lawrence is way off there. Lake Otsego.
Of course it never rains: it is never cold and muddy and dreary: no one has wet feet or toothache: no one feels filthy, when they can’t wash for a week. God knows what the women would have really looked like, for they fled through the wilds without soap, comb, or towel They breakfasted off a chunk of meat, or nothing, lunched the same and supped the same.
Yet at every moment they are elegant, perfect ladies, in correct toilet.
Which isn’t quite fair. You need only go camping for a week, and you’ll see.
But it is a myth, not a realistic tale. Read it as a lovely myth. Lake Glimmerglass. (66)
* The link is included as a reference, and is not really meant to be followed.