Fiction for the 19th Century

I had books thrust upon me at a young age. When my grandparents moved from what had been my dad’s childhood home to an apartment, he picked out a dozens of books he thought we would grow into. Thanks to that, I never ran out of books. Rather, that is the reason I’ve always had unread books lying around. The reason I never ran out of books I’d willingly read is thanks to the public library.

While I loved the set of 1971 encyclopedias my dad brought home from my grandparents, I was never inclined to pick up any of the novels he’d brought along with them. I tried reading the Mayor of Casterbridge once, but didn’t get as far as the mayor before I put it back down. Those books remained untouched until a few years ago. Puzzling at the selection, I questioned dad’s choice of reading material. He pointed out that guessing what a girl of the 90s would want to read from the library frozen in the early 70s, isn’t the easiest feat. I conceded.

He admitted that he hadn’t really loved those books either. But if I wanted a great story, I should read Last of the Mohicans. I borrowed his copy as a consolation prize. I read it. I am still recovering from the horror.

The best I can say of it is that the book is ideal for young boys. It has uncharted territory, bloodshed, people in need of rescue, forests full of known enemies, and unexpected allies. And, as dad never fails to point out, it’s treatment of Native Americans is advanced for its time. The books treats all men, regardless of race, as having the wisdom to choose between good and evil. It may be that more of the Native Americans are cast as sly and black-hearted, but at least they’ve got a white man or two for company. Women don’t fare as well, since they’re all pretty idiots. But still – advanced for its time!

As literature, the book is wanting. Few characters were blessed by Fenimore Cooper with actual personality. Bit parts are many and stereotypes are rife. The dialogue is stilted, and frequently offensive to modern sensibilities. There is no moral ambiguity, though there’s plenty of ambiguity regarding where the plot is headed. And, perhaps most devastating to me, the books describes the cruel death of the last of the Mohicans, the tribe around whom the book centers.

As my dad pointed out, once his laughter had subsided and he could catch his breathe without crying from the hilarity, the fact that the Mohicans are no more is in the title. He can’t quite believe I found their murder a surprise ending. But my 21st century literary training lead me to believe that the title was an allusion to the end of an era. Turns out that literature was much more straightforward in 1826.

Last of the Mohicans

by James Fenimore Cooper 

Title is also

the ending. Between: damsels,

adventure, and war.

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