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1. D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature
Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Novels
IN his Leatherstocking books, Fenimore is off on another track. He is no longer concerned with
social white Americans that buzz with pins through them, buzz loudly against every mortal thing
except the pin itself. The pin of the Great Ideal.
One gets irritated with Cooper because he never for once snarls at the Great Ideal Pin which
transfixes him. No, indeed. Rather, he tries to push it through the very heart of the Continent.
But I have loved the Leatherstocking books so dearly. Wish-fulfilment!
Anyhow, one is not supposed to take LOVE seriously, in these books. Eve Effingham, impaled
on the social pin, conscious all the time of her own ego and of nothing else, suddenly fluttering
in throes of love: no, it makes me sick. LOVE is never LOVE until it has a pin pushed through it
and becomes an IDEAL. The ego, turning on a pin, is wildly IN LOVE, always. Because that's
the thing to be.
Cooper was a GENTLEMAN, in the worst sense of the word. In the Nineteenth Century sense of
the word. A correct, clockwork man.
Not altogether, of course.
The great national Grouch was grinding inside him. Probably he called it COSMIC URGE.
Americans usually do: in capital letters.
Best stick to National Grouch. The great American grouch.
Cooper had it, gentleman that he was. That is why he flitted round Europe so uneasily. Of
course, in Europe he could be, and was, a gentleman to his heart's content.
'In short,' he says in one of his letters, 'we were at table two counts, one monsignore, an English
Lord, an Ambassador, and my humble self.'
Were we reallyl
How nice it must have been to know that oneself, at least, was humble.
And he felt the democratic American tomahawk wheeling over his uncomfortable scalp all the
The great American grouch.
2. Two monsters loomed on Cooper's horizon.
There you have the essential keyboard of Cooper's soul.
If there is one thing that annoys me more than a business man and his BUSINESS, it is an artist,
a writer, painter, musician, and MY WORK. When an artist says MY WORK, the flesh goes
tired on my bones. When he says MY WIFE, I want to hit him.
Cooper grizzled about his work. Oh, heaven, he cared so much whether it was good or bad, and
what the French thought, and what Mr. Snippy Knowall said, and how Mrs. Cooper took it. The
pin, the pin!
But he was truly an artist: then an American: then a gentleman.
And the grouch grouched inside him, through all.
They seem to have been specially fertile in imagining themselves 'under the wigwam', do these
Americans, just when their knees were comfortably under the mahogany, in Paris, along with the
knees of
4 Counts
2 Cardinals
1 Milord
5 Cocottes
3. 1 Humble self
You bet, though, that when the cocottes were being raffled off, Fenimore went home to his
Wish Fulfilment Actuality
Fenimore, Iying in his Louis Quatorze hotel in Paris, passionately musing about Natty Bumppo
and the pathless forest, and mixing his imagination with the Cupids and Butterflies on the
painted ceiling, while Mrs Cooper was struggling with her latest gown in the next room, and the
dejeuner was with the Countess at eleven . . .
Men live by lies.
In actuality, Fenimore loved the genteel continent of Europe, and waited gasping for the
newspapers to praise his WORK.
In another actuality he loved the tomahawking continent of America, and imagined himself Natty
His actual desire was to be: Monsieur Fenimore Cooper, le grand ecrivain americain.
His innermost wish was to be: Natty Bumppo.
Now Natty and Fenimore, arm-in-arm, are an odd couple.
You can see Fenimore: blue coat, silver buttons, silver-and-diamond buckle shoes, ruffles.
You see Natty Bumppo: a grizzled, uncouth old renegade, with gaps in his old teeth and a drop
on the end of his nose.
But Natty was Fenimore's great wish: his wish-fulfilment.
'It was a matter of course,' says Mrs. Cooper, 'that he should dwell on the better traits of the
picture rather than on the coarser and more revolting, though more common points. Like [painter
Benjamin] West, he could see Apollo in the young Mohawk.'
The coarser and more revolting, though more common points.
You see now why he depended so absolutely on MY WIFE. She had to look things in the face
for him. The coarser and more revolting, and certainly more common points, she had to see.
He himself did so love seeing pretty-pretty, with the thrill of a red scalp now and then.
4. Fenimore, in his imagination, wanted to be Natty Bumppo, who, I am sure, belched after he had
eaten his dinner. At the same time Mr. Cooper was nothing if not a gentleman. So he decided to
stay in France and have it all his own way.
In France, Natty would not belch after eating, and Chingachgook could be all the Apollo he
As if ever any Indian was like Apollo. The Indians, with their curious female quality, their
archaic figures, with high shoulders and deep, archaic waists, like a sort of woman! And their
natural devilishness, their natural insidiousness.
But men see what they want to see: especially if they look from a long distance, across the ocean,
for example.
Yet the Leatherstocking books are lovely. Lovely half-lies.
They form a sort of American Odyssey, with Natty Bumppo for Odysseus.
Only, in the original Odyssey, there is plenty of devil, Circes and swine and all. And Ithacus
[Odysseus] is devil enough to outwit the devils. But Natty is a saint with a gun, and the Indians
are gentlemen through and through, though they may take an occasional scalp.
There are five Leatherstocking novels: a decrescendo of reality, and a crescendo of beauty.
I. Pioneers: A raw frontier-village on Lake Champlain, at the end of the eighteenth century. Must
be a picture of Cooper's home, as he knew it when a boy. A very lovely book. Natty Bumppo an
old man, an old hunter half civilized.
2. The Last of the Mohicans: A historical fight between the British and the French, with Indians
on both sides, at a Fort by Lake Champlain. Romantic flight of the British general's two
daughters, conducted by the scout, Natty, who is in the prime of life; romantic death of the last of
the Delawares.
3. The Prairie: A wagon of some huge, sinister Kentuckians trekking west into the unbroken
prairie. Prairie Indians, and Natty, an old, old man; he dies seated on a chair on the Rocky
Mountains, looking east.
4. The Pathfinder: The Great Lakes. Natty, a man of about thirty-five, makes an abortive
proposal to a bouncing damsel, daughter of the Sergeant at the Fort.
5. Deerslayer: Natty and Hurry Harry, both quite young, are hunting in the virgin wild. They
meet two white women. Lake Champlain again.
These are the five Leatherstocking books: Natty Bumppo being Leatherstocking, Pathfinder,
Deerslayer, according to his ages.
5. Now let me put aside my impatience at the unreality of this vision, and accept it as a wish-
fulfilment vision, a kind of yearning myth. Because it seems to me that the things in Cooper that
make one so savage, when one compares them with actuality, are perhaps, when one considers
them as presentations of a deep subjective desire, real in their way, and almost prophetic.
The passionate love for America, for the soil of America, for example. As I say, it is perhaps
easier to love America passionately, when you look at it through the wrong end of the telescope,
across all the Atlantic water, as Cooper did so often, than when you are right there. When you
are actually in America, America hurts, because it has a powerful disintegrative influence upon
the white psyche. It is full of grinning, unappeased aboriginal demons, too, ghosts, and it
persecutes the white men, like some Eumenides, until the white men give up their absolute
whiteness. America is tense with latent violence and resistance. The very common sense of white
Americans has a tinge of helplessness in it, and deep fear of what might be if they were not
Yet one day the demons of America must be placated, the ghosts must be appeased, the Spirit of
Place atoned for. Then the true passionate love for American Soil will appear. As yet, there is too
much menace in the landscape.
But probably, one day America will be as beautiful in actuality as it is in Cooper. Not yet,
however. When the factories have fallen down again.
And again, this perpetual blood-brother theme of the Leatherstocking novels, Natty and
Chingachgook, the Great Serpent. At present it is a sheer myth. The Red Man and the White Man
are not blood-brothers: even when they are most friendly. When they are most friendly, it is as a
rule the one betraying his race-spirit to the other. In the white man—rather high-brow—who
'loves' the Indian, one feels the white man betraying his own race. There is something unproud,
underhand in it. Renegade. The same with the Americanized Indian who believes absolutely in
the white mode. It is a betrayal. Renegade again.
In the actual flesh, it seems to me the white man and the red man cause a feeling of oppression,
the one to the other, no matter what the good will. The red life flows in a different direction from
the white life. You can't make two streams that flow in opposite directions meet and mingle
Certainly, if Cooper had had to spend his whole life in the backwoods, side by side with a Noble
Red Brother, he would have screamed with the oppression of suffocation. He had to have Mrs.
Cooper, a straight strong pillar of society, to hang on to. And he had to have the culture of France
to turn back to, or he would just have been stifled. The Noble Red Brother would have
smothered him and driven him mad.
So that the Natty and Chingachgook myth must remain a myth. It is wish-fulfilment, an evasion
of actuality. As we have said before, the folds of the Great Serpent would have been heavy, very
heavy, too heavy, on any white man. Unless the white man were a true renegade, hating himself
and his own race-spirit, as sometimes happens.
6. It seems there can be no fusion in the flesh. But the spirit can change. The white man's spirit can
never become as the red man's spirit. It doesn't want to. But it can cease to be the opposite and
the negative of the red man's spirit. It can open out a new great area of consciousness, in which
there is room for the red spirit too.
To open out a new wide area of consciousness means to slough the old consciousness. The old
consciousness has become a tight-fitting prison to us, in which we are going rotten.
You can't have a new, easy skin before you have sloughed the old, tight skin.
You can't.
And you just can't, so you may as well leave off pretending.
Now the essential history of the people of the United States seems to me just this: At the
Renaissance the old consciousness was becoming a little tight. Europe sloughed her last skin, and
started a new, final phase.
But some Europeans recoiled from the last final phase. They wouldn't enter the cul de sac of
post-Renaissance, 'liberal' Europe. They came to America.
They came to America for two reasons:
(I) To slough the old European consciousness completely.
(2) To grow a new skin underneath, a new form. This second is a hidden process.
The two processes go on, of course, simultaneously. The slow forming of the new skin
underneath is the slow sloughing of the old skin. And sometimes this immortal serpent feels very
happy, feeling a new golden glow of a strangely patterned skin envelop him: and sometimes he
feels very sick, as if his very entrails were being torn out of him, as he wrenches once more at his
old skin, to get out of it.
Out! Out! he cries, in all kinds of euphemisms.
He's got to have his new skin on him before ever he can get out.
And he's got to get out before his new skin can ever be his own skin.
So there he is, a torn divided monster.
The true American, who writhes and writhes like a snake that is long in sloughing.
Sometimes snakes can't slough. They can't burst their old skin. Then they go sick and die inside
the old skin, and nobody ever sees the new pattern.
7. It needs a real desperate recklessness to burst your old skin at last. You simply don't care what
happens to you, if you rip yourself in two, so long as you do get out.
It also needs a real belief in the new skin. Otherwise you are likely never to make the effort.
Then you gradually sicken and go rotten and die in the old skin.
Now Fenimore stayed very safe inside the old skin: a gentleman, almost a European, as proper as
proper can be. And, safe inside the old skin, he imagined the gorgeous American pattern of a
new skin.
He hated democracy. So he evaded it, and had a nice dream of something beyond democracy.
But he belonged to democracy all the while.
Evasion!—Yet even that doesn't make the dream worthless.
Democracy in America was never the same as Liberty in Europe. In Europe Liberty was a great
life-throb. But in America Democracy was always something anti-life. The greatest democrats,
like Abraham Lincoln, had always a sacrificial, self-murdering note in their voices. American
Democracy was a form of self-murder, always. Or of murdering somebody else.
Necessarily. It was a pis aller [a course of action followed as a last resort]. It was the pis aller to
European Liberty. It was a cruel form of sloughing. Men murdered themselves into this
democracy. Democracy is the utter hardening of the old skin, the old form, the old psyche. It
hardens till it is tight and fixed and inorganic. Then it must burst, like a chrysalis shell. And out
must come the soft grub, or the soft damp butterfly of the American-at-last.
America has gone the pis aller of her democracy. Now she must slough even that, chiefly that,
indeed. What did Cooper dream beyond democracy? Why, in his immortal friendship of
Chingachgook and Natty Bumppo he dreamed the nucleus of a new society. That is, he dreamed
a new human relationship. A stark, stripped human relationship of two men, deeper than the
deeps of sex. Deeper than property, deeper than fatherhood, deeper than marriage, deeper than
love. So deep that it is loveless. The stark, loveless, wordless unison of two men who have come
to the bottom of themselves
This is the new nucleus of a new society, the clue to a new world-epoch. It asks for a great and
cruel sloughing first of all. Then it finds a great release into a new world, a new moral, a new
Natty and the Great Serpent are neither equals nor unequals. Each obeys the other when the
moment arrives. And each is stark and dumb in the other's presence, starkly himself without
illusion created. Each is just the crude pillar of a man, the crude living column of his own
manhood. And each knows the godhead of this crude column of manhood. A new relationship.
The Leatherstocking novels create the myth of this new relation. And they go backwards, from
old age to golden youth. That is the true myth of America. She starts old, old, wrinkled and
8. writhing in an old skin. And there is a gradual sloughing of the old skin, towards a new youth. It
is the myth of America.
You start with actuality. Pioneers is no doubt Cooperstown when Cooperstown was in the stage
of inception: a village of one wild street of log cabins under the forest hills by Lake Champlain: a
village of crude, wild frontiersmen, reacting against civilization.
Towards this frontier-village in the winter time, a negro slave drives a sledge through the
mountains, over deep snow. In the sledge sits a fair damsel, Miss Temple, with her handsome
pioneer father, Judge Temple. They hear a shot in the trees. It is the old hunter and
backwoodsman, Natty Bumppo, long and lean and uncouth, with a long rifle and gaps in his
Judge Temple, is 'squire' of the village, and he has a ridiculous, commodious 'hall' for his
residence. It is still the old English form. Miss Temple is a pattern young lady, like Eve
Effingham: in fact, she gets a young and very genteel but impoverished Effingham for a
husband. The old world holding its own on the edge of the wild. A bit tiresomely too, with rather
more prunes and prisms than one can digest. Too romantic.
Against the 'hall' and the gentry, the real frontiers-folk, the rebels. The two groups meet at the
village inn, and at the frozen church, and at the Christmas sports, and on the ice of the lake, and
at the great pigeon shoot. It is a beautiful, resplendent picture of life. Fenimore puts in only the
Perhaps my taste is childish, but these scenes in Pioneers seem to me marvellously beautiful. The
raw village street, with woodfires blinking through the unglazed window-chinks, on a winter's
night. The inn, with the rough woodsman and the drunken Indian John; the church, with the
snowy congregation crowding to the fire. Then the lavish abundance of Christmas cheer, and
turkey-shooting in the snow. Spring coming, forests all green, maple sugar taken from the trees:
and clouds of pigeons flying from the south, myriads of pigeons shot in heaps; and night-fishing
on the teeming, virgin lake; and deer-hunting.
Pictures! Some of the loveliest, most glamorous pictures in all literature.
Alas, without the cruel iron of reality. It is all real enough. Except that one realizes that Fenimore
was writing from a safe distance, where he would idealize and have his wish-fulfilment.
Because, when one comes to America, one finds that there is always a certain slightly devilish
resistance in the American landscape, and a certain slightly bitter resistance in the white man's
heart. Hawthorne gives this. But Cooper glosses it over.
The American landscape has never been at one with the white man. Never. And white men have
probably never felt so bitter anywhere, as here in America, where the very landscape, in its very
beauty, seems a bit devilish and grinning, opposed to us.
9. Cooper, however, glosses over this resistance, which in actuality can never quite be glossed over.
He wants the landscape to be at one with him. So he goes away to Europe and sees it as such. It
is a sort of vision.
And, nevertheless, the oneing will surely take place—some day.
The myth is the story of Natty. The old, lean hunter and backwoodsman lives with his friend, the
gray-haired Indian John, an old Delaware chief, in a hut within reach of the village. The
Delaware is christianized and bears the Christian name of John. He is tribeless and lost. He
humiliates his grey hairs in drunkenness, and dies, thankful to be dead, in a forest fire, passing
back to the fire whence he derived.
And this is Chingachgook, the splendid Great Serpent of the later novels.
No doubt Cooper, as a boy, knew both Natty and the Indian John. No doubt they fired his
imagination even then. When he is a man, crystallized in society and sheltering behind the safe
pillar of Mrs. Cooper, these two old fellows become a myth to his soul. He traces himself to a
new youth in them.
As for the story: Judge Temple has just been instrumental in passing the wise game laws. But
Natty has lived by his gun all his life in the wild woods, and simply childishly cannot understand
how he can be poaching on the Judge's land among the pine trees. He shoots a deer in the closed
season. The Judge is all sympathy, but the law must be enforced. Bewildered Natty, an old man
of seventy, is put in stocks and in prison. They release him as soon as possible. But the thing was
The letter killeth.
Natty's last connection with his own race is broken. John, the Indian, is dead. The old hunter
disappears, lonely and severed, into the forest, away, away from his race.
In the new epoch that is coming, there will be no letter of the law.
Chronologically, The Last of the Mohicans follows Pioneers. But in the myth, The Prairie comes
Cooper of course knew his own America. He travelled west and saw the prairies, and camped
with the Indians of the prairie
The Prairie, like Pioneers, bears a good deal the stamp of actuality. It is a strange, splendid
book, full of sense of doom. The figures of the great Kentuckian men, with their wolf-women,
loom colossal on the vast prairie, as they camp with their wagons. These are different pioneers
from Judge Temple. Lurid, brutal, tinged with the sinisterness of crime; these are the gaunt white
men who push west, push on and on against the natural opposition of the continent. On towards a
doom. Great wings of vengeful doom seem spread over the west, grim against the intruder. You
feel them again in Frank Norris's novel, The Octopus. While in the West of Bret Harte there is a
10. very devil in the air, and beneath him are sentimental self-conscious people being wicked and
goody by evasion.
In The Prairie there is a shadow of violence and dark cruelty flickering in the air. It is the
aboriginal demon hovering over the core of the continent. It hovers still, and the dread is still
Into such a prairie enters the huge figure of Ishmael, ponderous, pariah-like Ishmael and his huge
sons and his were-wolf wife. With their wagons they roll on from the frontiers of Kentucky, like
Cyclops into the savage wilderness. Day after day they seem to force their way into oblivion. But
their force of penetration ebbs. They are brought to a stop. They recoil in the throes of murder
and entrench themselves in isolation on a hillock in the midst of the prairie. There they hold out
like demi-gods against the elements and the subtle Indian.
The pioneering brute invasion of the West, crime-tinged! And into this setting, as a sort of
minister of peace, enters the old hunter Natty, and his suave, horse-riding Sioux Indians. But he
seems like a shadow.
The hills rise softly west, to the Rockies. There seems a new peace: or is it only suspense,
abstraction, waiting? Is it only a sort of beyond ?
Natty lives in these hills, in a village of the suave, horse-riding Sioux. They revere him as an old
wise father.
In these hills he dies, sitting in his chair and looking far east, to the forest and great sweet waters,
whence he came. He dies gently, in physical peace with the land and the Indians. He is an old,
old man.
Cooper could see no further than the foothills where Natty died, beyond the prairie.
The other novels bring us back east.
The Last of the Mohicans is divided between real historical narrative and true 'romance'. For
myself, I prefer the romance. It has a myth meaning, whereas the narrative is chiefly record.
For the first time we get actual women: the dark, handsome Cora and her frail sister, the White
Lily. The good old division, the dark sensual woman and the clinging, submissive little blonde,
who is so 'pure'.
These sisters are fugitives through the forest, under the protection of a Major Heyward, a young
American officer and Englishman. He is just a 'white' man, very good and brave and generous,
etc., but limited, most definitely borne. He would probably love Cora, if he dared, but he finds it
safer to adore the clinging White Lily of a younger sister.
11. This trio is escorted by Natty, now Leatherstocking, a hunter and scout in the prime of life,
accompanied by his inseparable friend Chingachgook, and the Delaware's beautiful son—Adonis
rather than Apollo—Uncas, the last of the Mohicans.
There is also a 'wicked' Indian, Magua, handsome and injured incarnation of evil.
Cora is the scarlet flower of womanhood, fierce, passionate offspring of some mysterious union
between the British officer and a Creole woman in the West Indies. Cora loves Uncas, Uncas
loves Cora. But Magua also desires Cora, violently desires her. A lurid little circle of sensual
fire. So Fenimore kills them all off, Cora, Uncas, and Magua, and leaves the White Lily to carry
on the race. She will breed plenty of white children to Major Heyward. These tiresome 'lilies that
fester', of our day.
Evidently Cooper—or the artist in him—has decided that there can be no blood-mixing of the
two races, white and red. He kills 'em off.
Beyond all this heart-beating stand the figures of Natty and Chingachgook: two childless,
womanless men, of opposite races. They are the abiding thing. Each of them is alone, and final in
his race. And they stand side by side, stark, abstract, beyond emotion, yet eternally together. All
the other loves seem frivolous. This is the new great thing, the clue, the inception of a new
And Natty, what sort of a white man is he? Why, he is a man with a gun. He is a killer, a slayer.
Patient and gentle as he is, he is a slayer. Self-effacing, self-forgetting, still he is a killer.
Twice, in the book, he brings an enemy down hurtling in death through the air, downwards. Once
it is the beautiful, wicked Magua—shot from a height, and hurtling down ghastly through space,
into death.
This is Natty, the white forerunner. A killer. As in Deerslayer, he shoots the bird that flies in the
high, high sky so that the bird falls out of the invisible into the visible, dead, he symbolizes
himself. He will bring the bird of the spirit out of the high air. He is the stoic American killer of
the old great life. But he kills, as he says, only to live.
Pathfinder takes us to the Great Lakes, and the glamour and beauty of sailing the great sweet
waters. Natty is now called Pathfinder. He is about thirty-five years old, and he falls in love. The
damsel is Mabel Dunham, daughter of Sergeant Dunham of the Fort garrison. She is blonde and
in all things admirable. No doubt Mrs. Cooper was very much like Mabel.
And Pathfinder doesn't marry her. She won't have him. She wisely prefers a more comfortable
Jasper. So Natty goes off to grouch, and to end by thanking his stars. When he had got right dear,
and sat by the campfire with Chingachgook, in the forest, didn't he just thank his stars! A lucky
Men of an uncertain age are liable to these infatuations. They aren't always lucky enough to be
12. Whatever would poor Mabel have done, had she been Mrs. Bumppo ?
Natty had no business marrying. His mission was elsewhere.
The most fascinating Leatherstocking book is the last, Deerslayer. Natty is now a fresh youth,
called Deerslayer. But the kind of silent prim youth who is never quite young, but reserves
himself for different things.
It is a gem of a book. Or a bit of perfect paste. And myself, I 1ike a bit of perfect paste in a
perfect setting, so long as I am not fooled by presence of reality. And the setting of
Deerslayer could not be more exquisite. Lake Champlain again.
Of course it never rains: it is never cold and muddy and dreary: no one has wet feet or toothache:
no one ever feels filthy when they can't wash for a week. God knows what the women would
really have 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.
Deerslayer, the youth with the long rifle, is found in the woods with a big, handsome, blonde-
bearded backwoodsman called Hurry Harry. Deerslayer seems to have been born under a
hemlock tree out of a pine-cone: a young man of the woods. He is silent, simple, philosophic,
moralistic, and an unerring shot. His simplicity is the simplicity of age rather than of youth. He is
race-old. All his reactions and impulses are fixed, static. Almost he is sexless, so race-old. Yet
intelligent, hardy, dauntless.
Hurry Harry is a big blusterer, just the opposite of Deerslayer. Deerslayer keeps the centre of his
own consciousness steady and unperturbed. Hurry Harry is one of those floundering people who
bluster from one emotion to another, very self-conscious, without any centre to them.
These two young men are making their way to a lovely, smallish lake, Lake Glimmerglass. On
this water the Hutter family has established itself. Old Hutter, it is suggested, has a criminal,
coarse, buccaneering past, and is a sort of fugitive from justice. But he is a good enough father to
his two grown-up girls. The family lives in a log hut 'castle', built on piles in the water, and the
old man has also constructed an 'ark', a sort of house-boat, in which he can take his daughters
when he goes on his rounds to trap the beaver.
The two girls are the inevitable dark and light. Judith, dark, fearless, passionate, a little lurid with
sin, is the scarlet-and- black blossom. Hetty, the younger, blonde, frail and innocent, is the white
lily again. But alas, the lily has begun to fester. She is slightly imbecile.
13. The two hunters arrive at the lake among the woods just as war has been declared. The Hutters
are unaware of the fact. And hostile Indians are on the lake already. So, the story of thrills and
Thomas Hardy's inevitable division of women into dark and fair, sinful and innocent, sensual and
pure, is Cooper's division too. It is indicative of the desire in the man. He wants sensuality and
sin, and he wants purity and 'innocence'. If the innocence goes a little rotten, slightly imbecile,
bad luck!
Hurry Harry, of course, like a handsome impetuous meat-fly, at once wants Judith, the lurid
poppy-blossom. Judith rejects him with scorn.
Judith, the sensual woman, at once wants the quiet, reserved, unmastered Deerslayer. She wants
to master him. And Deerslayer is half tempted, but never more than half. He is not going to be
mastered. A philosophic old soul, he does not give much for the temptations of sex. Probably he
dies virgin.
And he is right of it. Rather than be dragged into a false heat of deliberate sensuality, he will
remain alone. His soul is alone, for ever alone. So he will preserve his integrity, and remain
alone in the flesh. It is a stoicism which is honest and fearless, and from which Deerslayer never
lapses, except when, approaching middle age, he proposes to the buxom Mabel.
He lets his consciousness penetrate in loneliness into the new continent. His contacts are not
human. He wrestles with the spirits of the forest and the American wild, as a hermit wrestles
with God and Satan. His one meeting is with Chingachgook, and this meeting is silent, reserved,
across an unpassable distance.
Hetty, the White Lily, being imbecile, although full of vaporous religion and the dear, good God,
'who governs all things by his providence', is hopelessly infatuated with Hurry Harry. Being
innocence gone imbecile, like Dostoevsky's Idiot, she longs to give herself to the handsome
meat-fly. Of course he doesn't want her.
And so nothing happens: in that direction. Deerslayer goes off to meet Chingachgook, and help
him woo an Indian maid. Vicarious.
It is the miserable story of the collapse of the white psyche. The white man's mind and soul are
divided between these two things: innocence and lust, the Spirit and Sensuality. Sensuality
always carries a stigma, and is therefore more deeply desired, or lusted after. But spirituality
alone gives the sense of uplift, exaltation, and 'winged life', with the inevitable reaction into sin
and spite. So the white man is divided against himself. He plays off one side of himself against
the other side, till it is really a tale told by an idiot, and nauseating.
Against this, one is forced to admire the stark, enduring figure of Deerslayer. He is neither
spiritual nor sensual. He is a moralizer, but he always tries to moralize from actual experience,
not from theory. He says: 'Hurt nothing unless you're forced to.' Yet he gets his deepest thrill of
gratification, perhaps, when he puts a bullet through the heart of a beautiful buck, as it stoops to
14. drink at the lake. Or when he brings the invisible bird fluttering down in death, out of the high
blue. 'Hurt nothing unless you're forced to.' And yet he lives by death, by killing the wild things
of the air and earth.
It's not good enough.
But you have there the myth of the essential white America. All the other stuff, the love, the
democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard,
isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.
Of course, the soul often breaks down into disintegration, and you have lurid sin and Judith,
imbecile innocence lusting, in Hetty, and bluster, bragging, and self-conscious strength, in Harry.
But there are the disintegration products.
What true myth concerns itself with is not the disintegration product. True myth concerns itself
centrally with the onward adventure of the integral soul. And this, for America, is Deerslayer. A
man who turns his back on white society. A man who keeps his moral integrity hard and intact.
An isolate, almost selfless, stoic, enduring man, who lives by death, by killing, but who is pure
This is the very intrinsic—most American. He is at the core of all the other flux and fluff. And
when this man breaks from his static isolation, and makes a new move, then look out, something
will be happening.