This essay reconsiders Cooper’s work and its historical position in two salient relations: first, the Euro-American legal representations that organized the seizure and settlement of the American land from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century; second, the canonical ways of reading fiction that emerged in the context of modernism. The first relation exposes how and why Cooper’s fiction both matures and darkens between The Pioneers (1823) and The Ways of the Hour (1850). The second shows how the strange and arresting works that marked the thirty years of Cooper’s career reveal the limits of traditional modernist aesthetic criteria.

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