Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper (1841) Illustrated by N. C. Wyeth

The Deerslayer; a fantastic story.
In spite of all the criticism that surrounds the Leather Stalking series The Deerslayer is a very well motivated story, it rolls along at a quick pace for the first 1/3rd and only then has small lapses of the famous tedious over descriptive paragraphs. This by no means takes away from a good story telling experience. I have only The Last of the Mohicans as my other reference to Cooper.

I have this big Illustrated copy from 1929 in perfect condition.

N. C. Wyeth is notable do to his tremendous output of paintings and interesting because his family traces back to 1645 arrival to the American continent.

Of all the illustrations in the book this one is my favorite; it is of sweet little Hetty setting out to rescue her father and Hurry. The stunning beauty of the canoe (as with all classic yacht forms) is so faithfully brought to (better than) life.

In chapter 25 The Deerslayer and Judith have a spirited discussion about the Afterlife; the compares two different but similar views of a "better place."

In chapter 26 The Deerslayer provides marriage advice to Hist; referencing "cloudy day in the Lodge" he recommends keeping the "window to your heart open" so that there will always room for sunshine to enter. Wise words indeed.

On the final page Cooper expounds on the ethereal nature of life and lives.

"From all these signs, it was probable the lake had not been visited since the occurrence of the final scene of our tale. Accident or tradition had rendered it again a spot sacred to nature, the frequent wars and the feeble population of the colonies still confining the settlements within narrow boundaries. Chingachgook and his friend left the spot with melancholy feelings. It had been the region of their First War Path, and it carried back the minds of both to scenes of tenderness, as well as to hours of triumph. They held their way towards the Mohawk in silence, however, to rush into new adventures, as stirring and as remarkable as those which had attended their opening careers on this lovely lake. At a later day they returned to the place, where the Indian found a grave.
Time and circumstances have drawn an impenetrable mystery around all else connected with the Hutters. They lived, erred, died, and are forgotten. None connected have felt sufficient interest in the disgraced and disgracing to withdraw the veil, and a century is about to erase even the recollection of their names. The history of crime is ever revolting, and it is fortunate that few love to dwell on its incidents. The sins of the family have long since been arraigned at the judgment seat of God, or are registered for the terrible settlement of the last great day.
The same fate attended Judith. When Hawkeye reached the garrison on the Mohawk he inquired anxiously after that lovely but misguided creature. None knew her—even her person was no longer remembered. Other officers had, again and again, succeeded the Warleys and Craigs and Grahams, though an old sergeant of the garrison, who had lately come from England, was enabled to tell our hero that Sir Robert Warley lived on his paternal estates, and that there was a lady of rare beauty in the Lodge who had great influence over him, though she did not bear his name. Whether this was Judith relapsed into her early failing, or some other victim of the soldier's, Hawkeye never knew, nor would it be pleasant or profitable to inquire. We live in a world of transgressions and selfishness, and no pictures that represent us otherwise can be true, though, happily, for human nature, gleamings of that pure spirit in whose likeness man has been fashioned are to be seen, relieving its deformities, and mitigating if not excusing its crimes"

 I so wished that Hawkeye would take Judith for his wife. To him however she is damaged goods. Cooper illustrates her vagaries in a single paragraph and not in detail enough to make it stick. I suppose looking at the simple lines "the gal has her vagaries" and that she has spent time in the settlements where she "has caught more than is for her good, from the settlers, and especially from the gallantifying officers" from our 21st cent view point these words mean too many things but in the 1840's may have been all one needed to say about a woman.

The essay, In Defense of Judith: A Re-Reading of Cooper's The Deerslayer as Social History provides discourse on some of the potential failings of our hero. He is intolerant of others failings but acknowledges none of his own.This is the best description of the times, issues, and realities Cooper has en devoured to illuminate for us.