12 November 2009

Book Review: Another Personal Essay

"Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses"
by Mark Twain
(Read it online)

Twain sarcastically criticizes Cooper's work. The best part of this essay for me is the list of 18 "rules governing literary art" which Twain says are all violated by Cooper. For example, rule 10 says: "They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the Deerslayer tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together." Apparently Cooper was also an incapable observer with no knowledge of Nature. Twain believes that "if Cooper had any real knowledge of Nature's ways of doing things, he had a most delicate art in concealing the fact."

I have never read anything by Cooper, that I know of, but it matters not even a little to understanding and appreciating this essay. I just adore writing like this. This essay comes from a book called The Malcontents: The Best Bitter, Cynical, and Satirical Writing in the World edited by Joe Queenan. The collection is 1048 pages in length, and I'm picking and choosing from it and my other personal essay collections which includes Best American Essays 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002, and The Art of the Personal Essay which is another chunkster.


  1. I have The Art of the Personal Essay -- got it for a class in the personal essay. I really enjoy it. I think reading it at random is a great way to go about doing it!

  2. Rebecca - It's a great book, and that's how I got it too! You didn't go to DePaul in Chicago did you? :)

  3. Um, well, yes I did kind of...at least, I took one class toward a Masters and then I quit. I decided I wasn't meant to go back to school at the time...

    Did you go to DePaul?

  4. Rebecca - Ha! I received my MA in Writing from DePaul. And it was in my MAW that I took a personal essay course and received The Art of the Personal Essay. That would have been sometime in 2000-2002. When were you there?

  5. I took my one class the fall of 2006. I'd been accepted to the MA in Writing program! But then I decided it just wasn't right; one expen$ive class was enough to convince me of that.

    Besides I moved from Naperville (where the campus I was going to was) to way up North (Vernon Hills) so I no longer was close. And then I moved again and had a baby. Wow. It's been a busy three years!


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