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New Left Review I/28, November-December 1964

George Dekker

Lilies that Fester

The Last of the Mohicans and The Woman Who Rode Away

Escorted by a gallant Southern major, two beautiful half-sisters set out through the wilds of New York province for their father’s fort, which is about to be besieged by Montcalm and his Huron allies. It is the summer of 1757. The party is guided by Magua, an outcast Huron working for the British, who secretly plans to revenge himself for the humiliating punishment once inflicted on him by the girls’ father. But just before Magua can abduct the party and force raven-haired Cora to be his squaw, Natty Bumpo—alias Deerslayer, Hawkeye, Leatherstocking, etc—comes to their rescue. With the help of Chingachgook, chief of a once great but now nearly extinct tribe, and his son Uncas, the last of the Mohicans, Natty leads the party to a secret cave which lies behind a waterfall; the next morning they are discovered and blood flows. After a series of adventures, captures and recaptures, the party reaches Fort William Henry: but not before it is clear that Major Heyward prefers blonde Alice, and Uncas is enamoured of Cora, who we soon learn has mulatto blood. Shortly afterwards the fort is surrendered, the girls abducted by Magua and taken north to Canada; Cora and Magua are slain and Uncas, who for a moment seemed destined not only to become his tribe’s rightful chief but Cora’s saviour and husband as well, is also killed. Chingachgook and Natty are left to mourn him; and as D. H. Lawrence has summed it up, Alice is left ‘to carry on the race. She will breed plenty of white children to Major Heyward. These tiresome “lilies that fester” of our own day.’ [1] D. H. Lawrence, ‘Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Novels’, Studies in Classic American Literature (New York, 1923).

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George Dekker, ‘Lilies that Fester’, NLR I/28: £3

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