Thomas Cole: Reading the Paintings from The Last of the Mohicans

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2013-09-01 01:23Z by Steven

Thomas Cole: Reading the Paintings from The Last of the Mohicans

James Fenimore Cooper Society Website
Oneonta College, State University of New York
July 2013

Roberta Gray Katz
DePaul University

Presented at the 18th Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 2011

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 2011 Cooper Conference and Seminar (No. 18), The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York. Steven Harthorn and Hugh MacDougall, editors. (pp. 56-63)

In 1826-27, artist Thomas Cole produced four exhibition paintings based on the recent publication of James Fenimore Cooper’s historical novel, The Last of the Mohicans; A Narrative of 1757 (1826). As landscape compositions, the images from The Last of the Mohicans occupy a significant place in the painter’s oeuvre and in nineteenth-century European and American art. Representing some of the earliest landscapes derived from American rather than biblical, classical, or European literature, the Mohican pictures revitalized the genre of “landscape composition,” a part of the artistic hierarchy. Unlike a “landscape view,” a “landscape composition” conveyed imaginative ideas and human feelings like history painting or poetry. Yet, despite the reception of the paintings from The Last of the Mohicans as “landscape compositions,” most of the art criticism has favored the landscape over the literary, or focused on an individual painting instead of the group. Cole did not plan the Mohican pictures as a narrative series, but he depicted the dramatic climax rather than random events. Arranged narratively, the paintings include: 1. Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans,” Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund, 1827, (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut). 2. Landscape Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans,” 1827, (Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York). 3. Landscape Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans,” The Death of Cora, 1827, (University of Pennsylvania Art Collection, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). 4. Landscape with Figures: A Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans,” 1826, (Death of Magua. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois).

This paper proposes that Cole enlarged the genre of landscape composition by introducing American literary subjects and settings that offer a view of the colonial past as windows to the national present (1820s). Through the lens of Cooper’s popular text, set during the French and Indian Wars, the artist re-imagined a group of frontier encounters, transforming the anxiety of the European Romantics into the turbulence of an American story, both real and fictive. As the painter portrayed the interactions of Anglo-Americans, Native Americans, and an African-American mulatto in the northeast wilderness, he suggested a distinctive land and diverse people engaged in social conflict. In doing so, Cole established his artistic identity as a literary painter in landscape compositions that critiqued the American culture they celebrated. Rather than reading these pictures as topographic views, this paper regards the literary and the landscape as a bold visual narrative that recovered colonial history or legend as a fragile part of imagining a nation…

…A Violent Captivity: Landscape Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans,” The Death of Cora, 1827

Cole probably placed Landscape Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans,” The Death of Cora and Landscape with Figures: A Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans, the death of Magua, in the area of Lake George, the site of Cooper’s novel. The artist traveled to the region in 1826, visiting Glen Falls, Fort Edward, and Fort William Henry, all of which became popular tourist sites after the commercial success of The Last of the Mohicans. For the Death of Cora, the artist portrayed several episodes on various picture planes to produce a visually moving captivity narrative of gender and sexual violence. In the story, Tamenund released Cora to Magua, who retained his captive under tribal law. As a female character, Cora moves from hope and strength at the Indian Council to near helplessness, dependence, and despair. In the lower center of the canvas, Magua is ready to scalp the young heroine. With outstretched arm and knife in hand, he hesitates, but lurking below, another Huron brave will wield the fatal blow. On her knees, Cora prays to God while high on a precipice, the noble Uncas jumps to save her, but he is too far away and too indistinct so we read his failed effort. Cole heightened the captivity by confining the heroine to a dark and narrow space. Squeezed from behind by boulders, rocks, and broken tree limbs, Cora faces a massive rock wall at the cliff’s edge on a dark and stormy day. When the picture was on view at the National Academy of Design (1827), the Exhibition Catalogue included Magua’s famous lines, offering Cora the option of life with him or death. The passage reinforced Cora’s Christian faith and fateful choice:

“Woman,” he said, “choose! the wigwam or the knife of Le Subtil!” Cora regarded him not; but dropping on her knees, with a rich glow suffusing itself over her features, she raised her eyes and stretched her arms toward heaven, saying in a meek and yet confiding voice—”I am thine! Do with me as thou seest best!”— But Cora neither heard nor heeded his demand. The form of the Huron trembled in every fiber, and he raised his arm on high, but dropped it again, with a wild and bewildered air, like one who doubted. Once more he struggled with himself and lifted the keen weapon again-but a piercing cry was heard above them, and Uncas appeared, leaping franticly [sic] from a fearful height, upon the ledge. Last of the Mohicans, Vol. II, p. 266.

The Death of Cora recalls history paintings of sex, violence, and captivity, such as Titian’s Rape of Europa (1559-1562), or Nicolas Poussin’s The Abduction of the Sabine Women (1634-35), or Jacques Louis David’s The Intervention of the Sabine Women (1799), or the Death of Jane McCrea (1804) by American artist John Vanderlyn, or later Cole’s attempted rape scene in the Destruction from the Course of Empire series (1836). Captivity narratives served various purposes. At the end of the revolutionary eighteenth century, captivity images of cages and prisons served to dramatize liberty by showing constraint. American captivity narratives functioned as a form of interaction crossing gender and cultural boundaries, and they varied in the alternatives men and women sought. In the Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison (1824), purportedly a real life story, the colonial captive Mary Jemison chose to remain with the Seneca Indians rather than return to her own society. On the other hand, the fictive Cora, who finds Magua’s offer untenable, relinquished herself up to God and death. Nineteenth-century Americans could appropriate a captivity narrative to promote their own ambitious program of Manifest Destiny. Pictures of American Indians scalping white women warranted, in the mind of some people, policies of Indian removal. Frontier violence could be real or imagined, in the colonial or national period, but “savage” brutality threatened the safety of women, civilization, and national progress.

The Death of Cora complicated a clear reading of American identity by suggesting Cora’s significant but unstable role as an African-American mulatto. Bound by gender and class, Cora and Alice share the same father Lieutenant Colonel Munro. But, Cora was born to a West Indies mother “only remotely descended from black slaves.” While she belonged to an Anglo-American culture, Cora also identified with her black heritage, and she told Tamenund: the curse of my ancestors has fallen heavily on their child (II. XII. 214). Cole placed Cora in the near foreground, where we see her pale complexion, long black hair, slim figure, and white dress, like the dress of her half-sister Alice. At least one Cooper critic thought the author might have changed the tragic ending to an assimilated (tri-racial) match between Cora and Uncas, “as this sort of arrangement is coming into fashion, in real life, as in fiction.” In The Invisible Line, law professor Daniel Sharfstein argues that “people of African ancestry have crossed the color line and faded into the world around them,” throughout American history. At the same time, mixed families “did not escape the nation’s collective belief in a line separating black from white.” Sharfstein opens up the possibilities of considering the fluid yet tight racial boundaries, and the unstable nature of a fixed and unchanging identity…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

James Fenimore Cooper and the Invention of the Passing Novel

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-03-16 22:15Z by Steven

James Fenimore Cooper and the Invention of the Passing Novel

American Literature
Volume 84, Number 1 (March 2012)
pages 1-29
DOI: 10.1215/00029831-1540932

Geoffrey Sanborn, Associate Professor of Literature
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Sanborn’s essay seeks to demonstrate that The Headsman, an overlooked 1833 novel by James Fenimore Cooper, is an allegory of racial passing. After showing that the dominant aim of this melodrama about a Swiss executioner’s family is to critique white American prejudice against African Americans, and that it does so by dramatizing the consequences of passing for three members of that family, Sanborn considers the implications of the fact that the end of the novel seems to reverse, or at least neutralize, that critique. Although Cooper is quite serious about the antiracist message of the novel, the involutions of its ending suggest that by impersonating characters whom he thinks of as light-skinned black people passing as white, Cooper seeks imaginative pleasures just as much as, if not more than, he advances political aims. It is worth considering, Sanborn concludes, whether the same may be said of other passing novels—whether the painful secret keeping of literary passers is, for writers and readers alike, more pleasurable than we have imagined.

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , ,

Man with a Cross: Hawkeye Was a “Half-Breed”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Papers/Presentations, Passing, United States on 2011-05-12 02:24Z by Steven

Man with a Cross: Hawkeye Was a “Half-Breed”

Cooper Panel
American Literature Association Conference
San Diego, California
May 1998

James Fenimore Cooper Society

Barbara Mann, Lecturer of English
University of Toledo

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper Society Miscellaneous Papers No. 10, August 1998

Natty Bumppo—Hawkeye of James Fenimore Cooper’s five Leather-Stocking Tales—is indelibly inscribed in the critical mind as the “man without a cross,” that prototypical “white Indian” of American literature. So accustomed are they to Natty’s “man-without-a-cross” mantra that critics take it at face value, never asking the obvious question: Was Natty really a man without a racial cross? I say, “Not a chance.” Seen against the backdrop of Native history, of which Cooper was intimately aware, Natty could only have been a mixed blood.

Now for a little primer: Modem critics tend to assume that the one-drop rule of racial identity was always in force in America, legally disallowing any wiggle room to people of racially mixed ancestry. Not so. There were in actuality three rules of racial identity, each competing with the others between 1750 and 1850: generational passing; the rule of recognition; and the rule of descent. Generational passing, the British rule under colonialism, allowed third generation cross-bloods to pass as “white,” regardless of how Native or African they might look. By 1825, racist theory was gaining ground in America, positing two new, conflicting “rules” of race, those of recognition and descent. The rule of recognition was the eye-test of identity: whoever could pass, might; while the rule of descent—the infamous “one-drop” rule—forbade passing at all times, regardless of generation or appearance. After 1825, only the rules of recognition and descent remained to vie for social control and, from 1850 on, the one-drop rule alone applied. Note that, in Natty’s lifetime, the generational rule and the rule of recognition were in force. Under either, Natty was legally “white,” even though in modem, more racist America, he would not be so categorized…

Read the entire paper here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Making of Racial Sentiment: Slavery and the Birth of The Frontier Romance

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States on 2011-04-04 02:04Z by Steven

The Making of Racial Sentiment: Slavery and the Birth of The Frontier Romance

Cambridge University Press
August 2006
256 pages
Dimensions: 228 x 152 mm
Weight: 0.55 kg
Hardback ISBN: 9780521865395
Paperback ISBN: 9780521073042
Adobe eBook Reader ISBN: 9780511239465
Mobipocket eBook ISBN: 9780511247484

Ezra Tawil, Associate Professor of English
University of Rochester, Rochester, New York

The frontier romance, an enormously popular genre of American fiction born in the 1820s, helped redefine ‘race’ for an emerging national culture. Ezra Tawil argues that the novel of white-Indian conflict provided authors and readers with an apt analogy for the problem of slavery. By uncovering the sentimental aspects of the frontier romance, Tawil redraws the lines of influence between the ‘Indian novel’ of the 1820s and the sentimental novel of slavery, demonstrating how Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin ought to be reconsidered in this light. This study reveals how American literature of the 1820s helped form modern ideas about racial differences.

Contents

  • Introduction: toward a literary history of racial sentiment
  • 1. The politics of slavery and the discourse of race, 1787–1840
  • 2. Remaking natural rights: race and slavery in James Fenimore Cooper’s early writings
  • 3. Domestic frontier romance, or, how the sentimental heroine became white
  • 4. ‘Homely legends’: the uses of sentiment in Cooper’s Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish
  • 5. Stowe’s vanishing Americans: ‘Negro’ inferiority, captivity, and homecoming in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • 6. Captain Babo’s cabin: racial sentiment and the politics of misreading in Benito Cereno
  • Index.
Tags: , , ,

Hybridity in Cooper, Mitchell and Randall: Erasures, Rewritings, and American Historical Mythology

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery on 2010-12-18 04:05Z by Steven

Hybridity in Cooper, Mitchell and Randall: Erasures, Rewritings, and American Historical Mythology

McGill University, Montreal
Department of English
August, 2004
86 pages

Marie Thormodsgard

Submitted in partial fulfillment for a Masters degree in English

This thesis starts with an overview of the historical record tied to the birth of a new nation studied by Alexis de Tocqueville and Henry Steele Commager. It singles out the works of Henry Nash Smith and Eugene D. Genovese for an understanding, respectively, of the “myth of the frontier” tied to the conquest of the American West and the “plantation myth” that sustained slavery in the American South. Both myths underlie the concept of hybridity or cross-cultural relations in America. This thesis is concerned with the representation or lack of representation of hybridity and the roles played by female characters in connection with the land in two seminal American novels and their film versions—James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind—and Alice Randall’s rewriting of Mitchell’s novel, The Wind Done Gone, as a point of contrast. Hybridity is represented in the mixed-race bodies of these characters. Mitchell’s novel, and its film version in particular, create images which, according to bell hooks, “in the space of popular media culture black people in the U.S. and black people globally often look at [them]selves through images, through eyes that are unable to truly recognize [them], so that [they] are not represented as [them]selves but seen through the lens of the oppressor” (Yearning 155). I analyze how this “lens” has created a selective American cultural memory that leaves out the syncretism that is part of the American historical record and privileges the fostering of notions ofracial “purity.” My overall argument links the recurrent patterns of destruction visited on the hybrid bodies of mixed-race females with the destruction of the environment. This thesis demonstrates how literary and cinematic representations in American popular culture siphon lived history into cultural memory through the use and misuse of the hybrid female body.

The first chapter addresses James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans; concentrating on the characterization of Cora, who in the text is of mixed Caribbean ancestry, and is sacrificed for the “pure” American ideal to develop. The 1992 film version, however, erases Cora’s mixed-ethnicity and sacrifice while she still stands for the figure of the frontier heroine. The second chapter focuses on Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind and the 1939 film version. While Mitchell does not directly confront the issue of racial mixing, the Reconstruction half of the text portrays the Klu Klux Klan as resulting from a fear of white women and former slaves reproducing and therefore is representative of the South’s mythology and identity politics. The film erases Mitchell’s single hybrid character, Dylcie, and all references to hybridization and the KKK. The third chapter concentrates on Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone, which deconstructs the racial markers of polarized pigmentations in the original text. Essentially, Randall’s novel brings out what was left out of both Mitchell’s novel and its film version: the distorted notion of racial “purity” among slaves and slaveowners.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans
  • Chapter Two: Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind
  • Chapter Three: Randall’s The Wind Done Gone
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited

Read the entire thesis here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

“Miscegenation” Making Race in America

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2009-11-02 16:59Z by Steven

“Miscegenation” Making Race in America

University of Pennsylvania Press
2002
216 pages
6 x 9, 19 illus.
Cloth: ISBN 978-0-8122-3664-4
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8122-2064-3

Elise Lemire, Professor of Literature
Purchase College, State University of New York

In the years between the Revolution and the Civil War, as the question of black political rights was debated more and more vociferously, descriptions and pictorial representations of whites coupling with blacks proliferated in the North. Novelists, short-story writers, poets, journalists, and political cartoonists imagined that political equality would be followed by widespread inter-racial sex and marriage. Legally possible yet socially unthinkable, this “amalgamation” of the races would manifest itself in the perverse union of “whites” with “blacks,” the latter figured as ugly, animal-like, and foul-smelling. In Miscegenation, Elise Lemire reads these literary and visual depictions for what they can tell us about the connection between the racialization of desire and the social construction of race.

Previous studies of the prohibition of interracial sex and marriage in the U.S. have focused on either the slave South or the post-Reconstruction period. Looking instead to the North, and to such texts as the Federalist poetry about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, James Fenimore Cooper‘s Last of the Mohicans, Edgar Allan Poe‘s “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and the 1863 pamphlet in which the word “miscegenation” was first used, Lemire examines the steps by which whiteness became a sexual category and same-race desire came to seem a biological imperative.

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Introduction: The Rhetorical Wedge Between Preference and Prejudice
  • 1. Race and the Idea of “Preference” in the New Republic: The Port Folio Poems About Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
  • 2. The Rhetoric of Blood and Mixture: Cooper’s “Man Without a Cross”
  • 3. The Barrier of Good Taste: Avoiding A Sojourn in the City of Amalgamation in the Wake of Abolitionism
  • 4. Combating Abolitionism with the Species Argument: Race and Economic Anxieties in Poe’s Philadelphia
  • 5. Making “Miscegenation”: Alcott‘s Paul Frere and the Limits of Brotherhood After Emancipation
  • Epilogue: “Miscegenation” Today
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Acknowledgments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Race Mixture in Nineteenth-Century U.S. and Spanish American Fictions: Gender, Culture, and Nation Building

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, United States on 2009-10-21 03:07Z by Steven

Race Mixture in Nineteenth-Century U.S. and Spanish American Fictions: Gender, Culture, and Nation Building

University of North Carolina Press
October 2004
192 pages
5.5 x 8.5, notes, bibl., index
Paper ISBN:  978-0-8078-5564-5

Debra J. Rosenthal, Associate Professor of English
John Carroll University

Race mixture has played a formative role in the history of the Americas, from the western expansion of the United States to the political consolidation of emerging nations in Latin America. Debra J. Rosenthal examines nineteenth-century authors in the United States and Spanish America who struggled to give voice to these contemporary dilemmas about interracial sexual and cultural mixing.

Rosenthal argues that many literary representations of intimacy or sex took on political dimensions, whether advocating assimilation or miscegenation or defending the status quo. She also examines the degree to which novelists reacted to beliefs about skin differences, blood taboos, incest, desire, or inheritance laws. Rosenthal discusses U.S. authors such as James Fenimore Cooper, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Walt Whitman, William Dean Howells, and Lydia Maria Child as well as contemporary novelists from Cuba, Peru, and Ecuador, such as Gertrudis GĂłmez de Avellaneda, Clorinda Matto de Turner, and Juan LeĂłn Mera. With her multinational approach, Rosenthal explores the significance of racial hybridity to national and literary identity and participates in the wider scholarly effort to broaden critical discussions about America to include the Americas.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Barriers between Us: Interracial Sex in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Posted in Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2009-09-03 02:06Z by Steven

Barriers between Us: Interracial Sex in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Indiana University Press
2004-10-12
160 pages
1 bibliog., 1 index, 6.125 x 9.25
Paper ISBN-13: 978-0-253-21733-2; ISBN: 0-253-21733-4

Cassandra Jackson, Professor of English
The College of New Jersey

This provocative book examines the representation of characters of mixed African and European descent in the works of African American and European American writers of the 19th century.  The importance of mulatto figures as agents of ideological exchange in the American literary tradition has yet to receive sustained critical attention. Going beyond Sterling Brown’s melodramatic stereotype of the mulatto as “tragic figure,” Cassandra Jackson’s close study of nine works of fiction shows how the mulatto trope reveals the social, cultural, and political ideas of the period. Jackson uncovers a vigorous discussion in 19th-century fiction about the role of racial ideology in the creation of an American identity.  She analyzes the themes of race-mixing, the “mulatto,” nation building, and the social fluidity of race (and its imagined biological rigidity) in novels by James Fenimore Cooper, Richard Hildreth, Lydia Maria Child, Frances E. W. Harper, Thomas Detter, George Washington Cable, and Charles Chesnutt.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Mixed Heritage in Young Adult Literature

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Teaching Resources, United States on 2009-08-30 05:02Z by Steven

Mixed Heritage in Young Adult Literature

The Scarecrow Press, Inc.
March 2009
272 pages
Cloth ISBN: 0-8108-5969-6; ISBN-13: 978-0-8108-5969-2

Nancy Thalia Reynolds

Mixed-heritage people are one of the fastest-growing groups in the United States, yet culturally they have been largely invisible, especially in young adult literature. Mixed Heritage in Young Adult Literature is a critical exploration of how mixed-heritage characters (those of mixed race, ethnicity, religion, and/or adoption) and real-life people have been portrayed in young adult fiction and nonfiction.

This is the first in-depth, broad-scope critical exploration of this subgenre of multicultural literature. Following an introduction to the topic, author Nancy Thalia Reynolds examines the portrayal of mixed-heritage characters in literary classics by James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, and Zora Neale Hurston—staples of today’s high school English curriculum—along with other important authors. It opens up the discussion of young-adult racial and ethnic identity in literature to recognize—and focus on—those whose heritage straddles boundaries. In this book teachers will find new tools to approach race, ethnicity, and family heritage in literature and in the classroom.  This book also helps librarians find new criteria with which to evaluate young adult fiction and nonfiction with mixed-heritage characters.

Tags: , , , ,