ADVANTAGES

Of course we cannot overlook the potential romance between Deerslayer and Judith. Much has been written about this episode, for by concentrating on Natty's rejection of Judith and ignoring his rejection by Mabel, it has been possible to construct a myth of the Leatherstocking which is much more congenial to the 20th century critics' obsession with homoerotic purity than are the actual materials of the saga as Cooper wrote it. But Cooper's own audience, reading the books as they appeared, would recall (published just the year before) and contrast his passion in the one case with his reluctance in the other. Judith, as Natty several times observes, does not know her place, or refuses to accept it. Her love of finery is symptomatic of desires for things which she is not socially entitled to have and therefore ought not to want. Her sexual fall is related to her social dissatisfaction; she went with officers for economic reasons rather than sentimental ones. Moreover, she has given away, and for selfish purposes. The conservative Natty is attracted by her spirit and beauty but profoundly alienated by her radical willfulness. He is not, D. H. Lawrence notwithstanding, afraid of her. And a modern reader who is not afraid of her might well find her the most interesting of the woman characters: restless, intelligent, experienced, impatient, moody, and yet with keen sensibilities and a sharp appreciation of high moral qualities (this is evidenced by her attraction to Natty, and contrasted with her dull-witted sister's animal impulse toward Hurry Harry), she combines enough qualities to take on the semblance of a rich life. She must surely be the prototype for Hester Prynne and Zenobia. Her decision when Deerslayer turns her down to go off to Scotland and be an officer's mistress puts her in the tradition of Moll Flanders and Becky Sharp--women who manipulate their opportunities in a man's world.

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