The Prairie (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) [NOOK Book]

Overview


James Fenimore Cooper's The Prairie is the last episode in the Leatherstocking Tales. Set on the Great Plains just after the Louisiana Purchase, the frontier novel recounts the story of the aging trapper Natty Bumppo. The novel involves a series of conflicts between white settlers and rivaling Native American tribes. It communicates the destruction of natural resources and the tragic eradication of native peoples resulting from America's expansionist ideology.
...
See more details below
The Prairie (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$3.49
BN.com price
(Save 12%)$3.99 List Price
Marketplace
BN.com

All Available Formats & Editions

Overview


James Fenimore Cooper's The Prairie is the last episode in the Leatherstocking Tales. Set on the Great Plains just after the Louisiana Purchase, the frontier novel recounts the story of the aging trapper Natty Bumppo. The novel involves a series of conflicts between white settlers and rivaling Native American tribes. It communicates the destruction of natural resources and the tragic eradication of native peoples resulting from America's expansionist ideology.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

Meet the Author

James Fenimore Cooper


James Cooper (he added the Fenimore when he was in his 30s) was born September 15, 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey, to William Cooper and Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper. In 1790 the family moved to the frontier country of upstate New York, where William established a village he called Cooperstown. Although cushioned by wealth and William's status as landlord and judge, the Coopers found pioneering to be rugged, and only 7 of the 13 Cooper children survived their early years. All the hardship notwithstanding, according to family reports, the young James loved the wilderness. Years later, he wrote The Pioneers (1823) about Cooperstown in the 1790s, but many of his other books draw deeply on his childhood experiences of the frontier as well.

Cooper was sent to Yale in 1801 but he was expelled in 1805 for setting off an explosion in another student's room. Afterward, as a midshipman in the fledgling U.S. Navy, he made Atlantic passages and served at an isolated post on Lake Ontario. Cooper resigned his commission in 1811 to marry Susan Augusta De Lancey, the daughter of a wealthy New York State family. During the next decade, however, a series of bad investments and legal entanglements reduced his inheritance to the verge of bankruptcy.

Cooper was already 30 years old when, on a dare from his wife, he became a writer. One evening he threw down, in disgust, a novel he was reading aloud to her, saying he could write a better book himself. Susan, who knew that he disliked writing even letters, expressed her doubts. To prove her wrong he wrote Precaution, which was published anonymously in 1820. Encouraged by favorable reviews, Cooper wrote other books in quick succession, and by the time The Last of the Mohicans, his sixth novel, was published in 1827, he was internationally famous as America's first professionally successful novelist. Eventually he published 32 novels, as well as travel books and histories. Cooper invented the genre of nautical fiction, and in the figure of Nathaniel or "Natty" Bumppo (Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans) -- the central character in the five Leatherstocking Tales Cooper published between 1823 and 1841 -- he gave American fiction its first great hero.

Shortly after publishing The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper moved his family to Europe, but in 1833 he returned to America, moving back into his father's restored Mansion House in Cooperstown. He died there on September 14, 1851.

Author biography courtesy of Barnes & Noble Books.

Biography

James Cooper (he added the Fenimore when he was in his 30s) was born September 15, 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey, to William Cooper and Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper. In 1790 the family moved to the frontier country of upstate New York, where William established a village he called Cooperstown. Although cushioned by wealth and William's status as landlord and judge, the Coopers found pioneering to be rugged, and only 7 of the 13 Cooper children survived their early years. All the hardship notwithstanding, according to family reports, the young James loved the wilderness. Years later, he wrote The Pioneers (1823) about Cooperstown in the 1790s, but many of his other books draw deeply on his childhood experiences of the frontier as well.

Cooper was sent to Yale in 1801 but he was expelled in 1805 for setting off an explosion in another student's room. Afterward, as a midshipman in the fledgling U.S. Navy, he made Atlantic passages and served at an isolated post on Lake Ontario. Cooper resigned his commission in 1811 to marry Susan Augusta De Lancey, the daughter of a wealthy New York State family. During the next decade, however, a series of bad investments and legal entanglements reduced his inheritance to the verge of bankruptcy.

Cooper was already 30 years old when, on a dare from his wife, he became a writer. One evening he threw down, in disgust, a novel he was reading aloud to her, saying he could write a better book himself. Susan, who knew that he disliked writing even letters, expressed her doubts. To prove her wrong he wrote Precaution, which was published anonymously in 1820. Encouraged by favorable reviews, Cooper wrote other books in quick succession, and by the time The Last of the Mohicans, his sixth novel, was published in 1827, he was internationally famous as America's first professionally successful novelist. Eventually he published 32 novels, as well as travel books and histories. Cooper invented the genre of nautical fiction, and in the figure of Nathaniel or "Natty" Bumppo (Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans) -- the central character in the five Leatherstocking Tales Cooper published between 1823 and 1841 -- he gave American fiction its first great hero.

Shortly after publishing The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper moved his family to Europe, but in 1833 he returned to America, moving back into his father's restored Mansion House in Cooperstown. He died there on September 14, 1851.

Author biography courtesy of Barnes & Noble Books.

Good To Know

Cooper was expelled from Yale due to his passion for pranks, which included training a donkey to sit in a professor's chair and setting a fellow student's room on fire.

Between 1822 and 1826 Cooper lived in New York City, and was a major player on its intellectual scene. He founded the Bread and Cheese Club, which had many high-profile members, including notable painters of the Hudson River School and writers like William Cullen Bryant.

Read More Show Less
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 15, 1789
    2. Place of Birth:
      Burlington, New Jersey
    1. Date of Death:
      September 14, 1851
    2. Place of Death:
      Cooperstown, New York
    1. Education:
      Yale University (expelled in 1805)

Introduction

James Fenimore Cooper's The Prairie is the last episode in the Leatherstocking Tales, the most enduring and influential series of American frontier novels. It portrays in old age the mythic Natty Bumppo (also called "Leatherstocking," "Hawkeye," "Deerslayer," "Pathfinder," and "the Trapper"). This character is the original for the most recognizably "American" literary type, appearing in various forms under different names in frontier romances and Western novels and films, adapted later in police dramas and modern epics. Always similar in essentials, he lives on the periphery of the nation, yet he represents its values-as the outsider, the Indian fighter, the explorer, the man of pristine virtue and endemic violence. He speaks to the best and the worst in American culture and the expansionist impulses that fueled its history. Throughout the Leatherstocking Tales and especially in The Prairie, Cooper adapts the genre of the historical romance created by Sir Walter Scott in the Waverly novels. But Cooper takes it through the Adirondacks of New York into the Great Plains, from the old world to the new, and in doing so becomes one of the first internationally renowned American authors. The Prairie concludes Natty's story, but it was only the third written in a series of five. Considering the complexities of the hero's character in old age, the novel reflects some of the intricacies and paradoxes implicit in Cooper's view of what later became known as Manifest Destiny.

The Prairie is one of Cooper's early novels, but the author began writing comparatively late, and the varied experiences of his childhood and youth both enriched and informed his work. He was born to William Cooper and Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper on September 15, 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey. "Fenimore" was added to his name later in 1826. He was one of thirteen children, only six surviving to adulthood. In 1790, William Cooper purchased a large tract of land in upstate New York, near Lake Otsego, where he founded a settlement called Cooperstown. He served in public life, notably as a Federalist judge, and his young son's life in the settlement provided him with much of the setting and background for the Leatherstocking Tales. James attended boarding school in Albany and later entered Yale College. He was enrolled there from 1803 to 1805 but was expelled for a violent prank. In 1806, his father used his influence to acquire a commission for him in the United States Navy, and he sailed on a number of voyages and served in a military capacity at an outpost on Lake Ontario. These experiences combined to provide material for his sea tales and frontier novels. In 1810, Cooper resigned his commission, having met Susan Augusta De Lancey, the wealthy daughter of a family from Westchester. They married in 1811.

Both husband and wife were raised in rather privileged circumstances, but after William Cooper's death in 1809, a series of practical setbacks found the couple struggling with legal and financial matters. James was eager to find a reliable source of income. In "Small Family Memories," written as an introduction to Correspondence of James Fenimore Cooper, his wife Susan recounts an event that became an appealing and popular account of Cooper's genesis as a writer. The family had established a custom of reading in the evening, and regularly ordered the latest English novels from a New York bookseller. Apparently, Cooper was reading from a particular novel, which after a time he threw aside saying, "I could write you a better book than that myself!" All who witnessed this proclamation were amused since Cooper was disinclined even to write letters. But he set about the task, and the result was Precaution (1820), a novel of manners in the style of Jane Austen and Amelia Opie, suggesting also the influence of Sir Walter Scott, who would later provide the generic model for The Prairie, as well as the rest of the Leatherstocking Tales.

Both Precaution and his second novel The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground (1821) were well received, and Cooper quickly emerged alongside Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant as one of the bright lights of a new American literary culture. The Spy represented Cooper's first foray into the historical romance, a genre epic in nature and scope, established by Sir Walter Scott. In 1823, The Pioneers (the first of the Leatherstocking Tales) was published, followed in short succession by The Pilot (1824), Lionel Lincoln (1825), The Last of the Mohicans (1826) (volume 2 of the Leatherstocking Tales), and The Prairie (1827) (volume 3). Cooper remained prolific in later life, writing both fiction and nonfiction, and completed the story of Natty Bumppo by returning to the character's earlier years in The Pathfinder (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841). Cooper traveled widely (completing The Prairie in Paris). Spanning many genres, his works engaged contemporary political debates both national and international as well as questions of historiography, race, and religion. His later novels, specifically The Oak Openings (1848) and The Sea Lions (1849) strongly affirm his Christian faith, and though he remained firmly patriotic, these religious beliefs were interlaced with a strident critique of American materialism and the rising tide of industrial capitalism. These latter concerns found early expression in The Prairie.

It is a humorous and certainly unfortunate fact of American literary history that Cooper's reputation suffered somewhat in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In "A Fable for Critics" (1849), James Russell Lowell criticized Cooper's class consciousness and suggested that his gift for characterization (particularly with respect to women) was limited. More damaging to the reception of Cooper's work was Mark Twain's "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (1895). In this playful but scathing essay, Twain lampoons the lack of verisimilitude and the highly romanticized elements of plot that appear in The Deerslayer. However, it must be noted that Twain was also highly critical of Sir Walter Scott, and "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" is a cornerstone treatise of late nineteenth-century American Realism. Twain's purpose is to outline an aesthetic practice that privileges the vivid rendering of actuality and historical detail, a practice employed by various writers of his own era, including William Dean Howells and Henry James. The essay is as much a response to Romanticism in general as it is to Cooper specifically. In spite of this criticism, The Prairie remains a particular favorite among scholars, and along with many of his other works it continues to be popular and compelling, exerting over time a tremendous influence on the development of the American novel. The character typology articulated in the story and the concern with the sunset fading of the American frontier are central preoccupations of twentieth-century authors such as William Faulkner, Larry McMurtry, and Cormac McCarthy.

The Prairie is set in 1804 on the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River, just after the Louisiana Purchase. The novel recounts the story of the aging trapper Natty Bumppo, now alone and isolated, as he encounters an oddly mixed and incongruous caravan of migrants. The brutal Ishmael Bush, his wife Esther, and their numerous sons and daughters, as well as his brother-in-law Abiram White, lead the caravan. Also among them are Esther's niece, Ellen Wade, and a naturalist by the name of Dr. Obed Battius. Abiram White holds captive the young woman, Inez, who is the wife of Captain Middleton, a soldier in the United States Army. As the story opens, the caravan happens upon the trapper, and they soon encounter a band of hostile Sioux. The novel involves a series of revealing conflicts between the white settlers, Natty, the Sioux, and their rivals the Pawnee. Cooper carefully orchestrates a series of twists and surprises that illuminate the complexities of the characters, traits that transcend individual identities, reflecting broader historical and political concerns. Through these various players, The Prairie advances and complicates a number of important themes previously addressed in The Pioneers and The Last of the Mohicans: the destruction of natural resources and landscape, the tragic eradication of native peoples, and the troubling trajectory of American history and American expansionist ideology.

Ishmael Bush and his darker counterpart Abiram White, though nuanced and quite human in their motives and aspirations, rise to almost allegorical proportions, representing the white American impulse to settle and possess the riches of America's unspoiled lands. Ishmael manifests a physical strength rivaled only by his callous force of will, mirrored directly in his many sons. Their overtly materialist efforts function parallel to the ostensibly altruistic motives of the naturalist Dr. Battius, whose often comic pursuit of scientific knowledge involves yet another form of control and possession. These characters emerge as intricately textured figures of virtue and vice. They are strong and powerful, full of energy, ambition, and aspiration; but they are also motivated by greed, single-minded avarice, and a willingness to transcend accepted ethical boundaries. As with his white characters, Cooper's treatment of Native Americans in The Prairie is starkly ambiguous, though less so within a single character. The young Pawnee chief Hard-Heart takes on a heroic role in his defense of his people against the Sioux, who figure less sympathetically in their willingness to steal, capture, and torture their enemies. As the narrative evolves, the interrelationship of whites and natives takes on a startling intricacy, and the novel resists any attempt to establish a moral framework that functions neatly along racial and ethnic lines. This becomes evident in Natty Bumppo himself.

It is through the development of Natty's character in The Prairie that we begin to see tension and paradox in Cooper's perspective on American history and expansionism. Natty proceeds from youth to old age in the following story-sequence: The Deerslayer (1841), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Pathfinder (1840), The Pioneers (1823), and finally The Prairie (1827). Read in this order, it appears that Cooper becomes more skeptical of expansionist doctrine. In his youth, Natty takes on many of the characteristics and practices of Native Americans, but he remains committed to his "white gifts," and in a significant way he is the "pathfinder," the vanguard of settlement and progressivism. As he reaches old age in The Prairie, he remains the heroic defender of those in need (white and native) but he deliberately removes himself from the ever-encroaching tide of settlement and civilization, and he is openly critical of its darker implications. The fascinating irony, however, is that the novels were not written in story-sequence, and read carefully each reflects a tension in Cooper's viewpoint that perhaps lasted throughout his life. In The Prairie, we can begin to see an essential relationship between characterization and genre, and in this sense we can come to understand Cooper's value as a novelist. Natty is derived from a long line of archetypal mythic figures. His genealogy is ancient, proceeding from the classical epics of Homer and Virgil, into the medieval romances of the European continent and England, and of course into the historical romances of Sir Walter Scott. As with all of the characters who emerge from this epic tradition, he is larger than life, capable of marshal feats beyond the common man. In addition, he is representative, suggesting the virtues, values, motives, and aspirations of a culture and a people. However, The Prairie is the most deeply critical and ambiguous of the Leatherstocking Tales, particularly regarding the mythic status of the hero. As a distinctly American version of the epic tradition, The Prairie foregrounds Natty's role as outsider, rebel, and self-proclaimed isolato-reflecting the individualist impulses so endemic to American cultural perception. In The Prairie, Natty stands between and is in large part the victim of a set of conflicting historical forces. The tide of progress leaves him without a place. But he is by no means a figure of pure sympathy. His anti-social behavior and his impulse to violence are central traits of a vexing concept of heroism that remains dominant today.

Natty Bumppo is in large part an Adamic figure, the central human actor in a new garden, a manifestation of the possibility that informed the early nation's sense of itself. With vast sweeps of open land available for the taking, the nation might expand its power and influence and become the vanguard example of modern democracy and political hope. This was Manifest Destiny in its essence, the nineteenth-century version of an ideal that traced its origins to the Puritans, who under John Winthrop envisioned themselves as a chosen people with a special mission, as a "beacon on a hill" meant to exemplify the ideal society. Natty is the new Adam in an American Eden, a mythic figure exemplifying possibility and vision. In The Prairie, however, the garden is darkening, leaning toward corruption through the invasion and malevolent influence of a decadent civilization. Natty's age and increasing infirmity connote his inevitable lapse into a fallen world, and his obvious propensity to settle disputes with the gun and the knife, present in all of the Leatherstocking Tales, is added evidence of his inability to represent the pre-lapsarian Edenic model in its purest form. In all of this, Cooper achieves something singularly impressive in The Prairie, because in this novel Natty sustains his mythic stature while acquiring a roundness of character perhaps less fully present in the other Leatherstocking Tales. In his weakness, he retains his wit and ingenuity; in his age, he achieves a recognizable human sympathy, both for the people he encounters and for the natural world they occupy.

Cooper centers the novel's thematic tensions not only on character conflict and interaction, but on the relationship of people to the land. As a firm reactionary committed to the frontier and the manner of living it demands, Natty draws the reader's attention to the vastness, the sublimity, and the inexpressible beauty of a distinctly American landscape. It is a sublimity more compelling because it is fading from view, giving way under the pressure of the inexorable forces of progress and mercantile materialism. But in spite of these inevitabilities, the landscape transcends. The darkly comic character of Dr. Battius, representative of the "scientific" civilization, is finally crippled and dumbfounded by the reality of a nature that he can never fully categorize and understand. Natty Bumppo, Ishmael Bush, Abiram White, Hard-Heart, Captain Middleton, and Inez, appear to us as characters of varying levels of sympathy and concern. Our attention is drawn to them. But here we are invited to consider that Cooper begins each chapter with an epigram from Shakespeare, and this Shakespearean scope implies, in the words of Macbeth, that these people are only players, who "strut" and "fret" and in the end are "heard no more." Through them, Cooper invites us to stand in awe of the natural world, to treat it with humility and reverence, and to understand that the human drama for which it provides the stage ultimately fades into the profound incomprehensibility of the stage itself. Cooper later returns to the optative representations of the white hero in The Pathfinder (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841). But The Prairie demonstrates the levels, tensions, and richness of Cooper's creative intellect, as he grapples with the irreconcilable complexities of civilization and the dark beauty and immutable reality of nature.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 13 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(6)

4 Star

(3)

3 Star

(1)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(3)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 – 14 of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2008

    500 Miles West of the Mississippi in 1804

    THE PRAIRIE begins in 1804, 500 miles west of the Mississippi River and ends there a year later. The land now belongs to the USA, after the purchase of Louisiana. Rogers and Clark are exploring farther north. *** Nathaniel 'Natty' Bumppo aka Hawkeye, Deerslayer, Pathfinder and other evolving names is 87 years old. He no longer thinks of himself as a hunter but a simple trapper of furs and hides. He runs afoul of a crude family led by Ishmael Bush, all rugged individualists like himelf. They are traveling with an eccentric medical doctor who is also a naturalist exploring new flora and fauna. They have kidnapped, without the doctor's knowledge, the beautiful daughter of the richest Creole in newly purchased Louisiana. Natty throws in as an ally of various parties: her army Captain fiance who is on her trail, a wandering bee trailer and a large band of benign Pawnees to see justice done. *** In the process of setting free two women unwillingly with the Bushes, Natty and others skirmish with thieving Sioux who set the prairie on fire to trap the rescuers and the two young women, including the refined niece of one of the rascally group. In the end, the paterfamilias of the Bush family squatters does rough frontier justice to all parties, including imposing a brutal death sentence on his wife's brother who had killed their eldest son. *** Read THE PRAIRIE for its description of an American west in which white men were still rare, and for the final months of Natty Bumppo, a haunting figure who catches much of the pioneering American spirit that made America America. The writing is vivid, memorable and the history of the frontier is of seminal importance. -OOO-

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2007

    A great read, though tedious at times!

    I actually enjoyed this more than The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper's most popular book. The Prairie tells a very interesting story, and no detail is too trivial to be excluded. Overall, although it certainly drifted into excess obscurity at times, in a larger scope The Prairie was an extemely rewarding read. It's worthy to note that the historical context of this book seems to be quite accurate.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2011

    ?

    Is it any good?

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 14 of 13 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)