Dime novels had featured some rather scrawny horse-bound tenders of cattle, but not until 1902 did the cowboy become a fully realized article of American culture. That year Owen Wister, a native of Philadelphia, published the novel that established the conventions of the western. An immediate best seller, it has never faded from public consciousness. Suddenly there was the natural aristocrat, the Virginian, who faced down the archetypal villain. Trampas, flinging at him the unforgettable words "When you call me that, smile!" There was the eastern schoolteacher, Molly, far from being a wilted flower. They moved in the raw, bracing atmosphere that generations of readers and moviegoers would come to expect from westerns. To read The Virginian, again or for the first time, is to enter a cultural phenomenon.
This Bison Book makes available once more the memorable 1929 edition that brought together the art of Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. It adds an introduction by one of today's most brilliant creators of rugged individualists, Thomas McGuane. The author of Nobody's Angel (1982) and Keep the Change (1989), McGuane shows how The Virginian "bears all the advantages and disadvantages of being a precursor."
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About the Author
Owen Wister (1860 - 1938) graduated from Harvard University in 1880 and practiced law in Philadelphia. He is most well-known for The Virginian, the first western novel to use the cowboy as heroic figure.
Read an Excerpt
A Horseman of the Plains
By Owen Wister
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media
All rights reserved.
ENTER THE MAN
SOME NOTABLE SIGHT WAS DRAWING the passengers, both men and women, to the window; and therefore I rose and crossed the car to see what it was. I saw near the track an enclosure, and round it some laughing men, and inside it some whirling dust, and amid the dust some horses, plunging, huddling, and dodging. They were cow ponies in a corral, and one of them would not be caught, no matter who threw the rope. We had plenty of time to watch this sport, for our train had stopped that the engine might take water at the tank before it pulled us up beside the station platform of Medicine Bow. We were also six hours late, and starving for entertainment. The pony in the corral was wise, and rapid of limb. Have you seen a skilful boxer watch his antagonist with a quiet, incessant eye? Such an eye as this did the pony keep upon whatever man took the rope. The man might pretend to look at the weather, which was fine; or he might affect earnest conversation with a bystander: it was bootless. The pony saw through it. No feint hoodwinked him. This animal was thoroughly a man of the world. His undistracted eye stayed fixed upon the dissembling foe, and the gravity of his horse-expression made the matter one of high comedy. Then the rope would sail out at him, but he was already elsewhere; and if horses laugh, gayety must have abounded in that corral. Sometimes the pony took a turn alone; next he had slid in a flash among his brothers, and the whole of them like a school of playful fish whipped round the corral, kicking up the fine dust, and (I take it) roaring with laughter. Through the window-glass of our Pullman the thud of their mischievous hoofs reached us, and the strong, humorous curses of the cow-boys. Then for the first time I noticed a man who sat on the high gate of the corral, looking on. For he now climbed down with the undulations of a tiger, smooth and easy, as if his muscles flowed beneath his skin. The others had all visibly whirled the rope, some of them even shoulder high. I did not see his arm lift or move. He appeared to hold the rope down low, by his leg. But like a sudden snake I saw the noose go out its length and fall true; and the thing was done. As the captured pony walked in with a sweet, church-door expression, our train moved slowly on to the station, and a passenger remarked, "That man knows his business."
But the passenger's dissertation upon roping I was obliged to lose, for Medicine Bow was my station. I bade my fellow-travellers good-by, and descended, a stranger, into the great cattle land. And here in less than ten minutes I learned news which made me feel a stranger indeed.
My baggage was lost; it had not come on my train; it was adrift somewhere back in the two thousand miles that lay behind me. And by way of comfort, the baggage-man remarked that passengers often got astray from their trunks, but the trunks mostly found them after a while. Having offered me this encouragement, he turned whistling to his affairs and left me planted in the baggage-room at Medicine Bow. I stood deserted among crates and boxes, blankly holding my check, hungry and forlorn. I stared out through the door at the sky and the plains; but I did not see the antelope shining among the sagebrush, nor the great sunset light of Wyoming. Annoyance blinded my eyes to all things save my grievance: I saw only a lost trunk. And I was muttering half-aloud, "What a forsaken hole this is!" when suddenly from outside on the platform came a slow voice: "Off to get married AGAIN? Oh, don't!"
The voice was Southern and gentle and drawling; and a second voice came in immediate answer, cracked and querulous. "It ain't again. Who says it's again? Who told you, anyway?"
And the first voice responded caressingly: "Why, your Sunday clothes told me, Uncle Hughey. They are speakin' mighty loud o' nuptials."
"You don't worry me!" snapped Uncle Hughey, with shrill heat.
And the other gently continued, "Ain't them gloves the same yu' wore to your last weddin'?"
"You don't worry me! You don't worry me!" now screamed Uncle Hughey.
Already I had forgotten my trunk; care had left me; I was aware of the sunset, and had no desire but for more of this conversation. For it resembled none that I had heard in my life so far. I stepped to the door and looked out upon the station platform.
Lounging there at ease against the wall was a slim young giant, more beautiful than pictures. His broad, soft hat was pushed back; a loose-knotted, dull-scarlet handkerchief sagged from his throat; and one casual thumb was hooked in the cartridge-belt that slanted across his hips. He had plainly come many miles from somewhere across the vast horizon, as the dust upon him showed. His boots were white with it. His overalls were gray with it. The weather-beaten bloom of his face shone through it duskily, as the ripe peaches look upon their trees in a dry season. But no dinginess of travel or shabbiness of attire could tarnish the splendor that radiated from his youth and strength. The old man upon whose temper his remarks were doing such deadly work was combed and curried to a finish, a bridegroom swept and garnished; but alas for age! Had I been the bride, I should have taken the giant, dust and all. He had by no means done with the old man.
"Why, yu've hung weddin' gyarments on every limb!" he now drawled, with admiration. "Who is the lucky lady this trip?"
The old man seemed to vibrate. "Tell you there ain't been no other! Call me a Mormon, would you?"
"Call me a Mormon? Then name some of my wives. Name two. Name one. Dare you!"
"—that Laramie wido' promised you—"
"—only her doctor suddenly ordered Southern climate and—"
"Shucks! You're a false alarm."
"—so nothing but her lungs came between you. And next you'd most got united with Cattle Kate, only—"
"Tell you you're a false alarm!"
"—only she got hung."
"Where's the wives in all this? Show the wives! Come now!"
"That corn-fed biscuit-shooter at Rawlins yu' gave the canary—"
"Never married her. Never did marry—"
"But yu' come so near, Uncle! She was the one left yu' that letter explaining how she'd got married to a young cyard-player the very day before her ceremony with you was due, and—"
"Oh, you're nothing; you're a kid; you don't amount to—"
"—and how she'd never, never forgot to feed the canary."
"This country's getting full of kids," stated the old man, witheringly. "It's doomed." This crushing assertion plainly satisfied him. And he blinked his eyes with renewed anticipation. His tall tormentor continued with a face of unchanging gravity, and a voice of gentle solicitude: "How is the health of that unfortunate—"
"That's right! Pour your insults! Pour 'em on a sick, afflicted woman!" The eyes blinked with combative relish.
"Insults? Oh, no, Uncle Hughey!"
"That's all right! Insults goes!"
"Why, I was mighty relieved when she began to recover her mem'ry. Las' time I heard, they told me she'd got it pretty near all back. Remembered her father, and her mother, and her sisters and brothers, and her friends, and her happy childhood, and all her doin's except only your face. The boys was bettin' she'd get that far too, give her time. But I reckon afteh such a turrable sickness as she had, that would be expectin' most too much."
At this Uncle Hughey jerked out a small parcel. "Shows how much you know!" he cackled. "There! See that! That's my ring she sent me back, being too unstrung for marriage. So she don't remember me, don't she? Ha-ha! Always said you were a false alarm."
The Southerner put more anxiety into his tone. "And so you're a-takin' the ring right on to the next one!" he exclaimed. "Oh, don't go to get married again, Uncle Hughey! What's the use o' being married?"
"What's the use?" echoed the bridegroom, with scorn. "Hm! When you grow up you'll think different."
"Course I expect to think different when my age is different. I'm havin' the thoughts proper to twenty-four, and you're havin' the thoughts proper to sixty."
"Fifty!" shrieked Uncle Hughey, jumping in the air.
The Southerner took a tone of self-reproach. "Now, how could I forget you was fifty," he murmured, "when you have been telling it to the boys so careful for the last ten years!"
Have you ever seen a cockatoo—the white kind with the top-knot—enraged by insult? The bird erects every available feather upon its person. So did Uncle Hughey seem to swell, clothes, mustache, and woolly white beard; and without further speech he took himself on board the Eastbound train, which now arrived from its siding in time to deliver him.
Yet this was not why he had not gone away before. At any time he could have escaped into the baggage-room or withdrawn to a dignified distance until his train should come up. But the old man had evidently got a sort of joy from this teasing. He had reached that inevitable age when we are tickled to be linked with affairs of gallantry, no matter how.
With him now the Eastbound departed slowly into that distance whence I had come. I stared after it as it went its way to the far shores of civilization. It grew small in the unending gulf of space, until all sign of its presence was gone save a faint skein of smoke against the evening sky. And now my lost trunk came back into my thoughts, and Medicine Bow seemed a lonely spot. A sort of ship had left me marooned in a foreign ocean; the Pullman was comfortably steaming home to port, while I—how was I to find Judge Henry's ranch? Where in this unfeatured wilderness was Sunk Creek? No creek or any water at all flowed here that I could perceive. My host had written he should meet me at the station and drive me to his ranch. This was all that I knew. He was not here. The baggage-man had not seen him lately. The ranch was almost certain to be too far to walk to, to-night. My trunk—I discovered myself still staring dolefully after the vanished Eastbound; and at the same instant I became aware that the tall man was looking gravely at me,—as gravely as he had looked at Uncle Hughey throughout their remarkable conversation.
To see his eye thus fixing me and his thumb still hooked in his cartridge-belt, certain tales of travellers from these parts forced themselves disquietingly into my recollection. Now that Uncle Hughey was gone, was I to take his place and be, for instance, invited to dance on the platform to the music of shots nicely aimed?
"I reckon I am looking for you, seh," the tall man now observed.CHAPTER 2
"WHEN YOU CALL ME THAT, SMILE!"
WE CANNOT SEE OURSELVES as others see us, or I should know what appearance I cut at hearing this from the tall man. I said nothing, feeling uncertain.
"I reckon I am looking for you, seh," he repeated politely.
"I am looking for Judge Henry," I now replied.
He walked toward me, and I saw that in inches he was not a giant. He was not more than six feet. It was Uncle Hughey that had made him seem to tower. But in his eye, in his face, in his step, in the whole man, there dominated a something potent to be felt, I should think, by man or woman.
"The Judge sent me afteh you, seh," he now explained, in his civil Southern voice; and he handed me a letter from my host. Had I not witnessed his facetious performances with Uncle Hughey, I should have judged him wholly ungifted with such powers. There was nothing external about him but what seemed the signs of a nature as grave as you could meet. But I had witnessed; and therefore supposing that I knew him in spite of his appearance, that I was, so to speak, in his secret and could give him a sort of wink, I adopted at once a method of easiness. It was so pleasant to be easy with a large stranger, who instead of shooting at your heels had very civilly handed you a letter.
"You're from old Virginia, I take it?" I began.
He answered slowly, "Then you have taken it correct, seh."
A slight chill passed over my easiness, but I went cheerily on with a further inquiry. "Find many oddities out here like Uncle Hughey?"
"Yes, seh, there is a right smart of oddities around. They come in on every train."
At this point I dropped my method of easiness.
"I wish that trunks came on the train," said I. And I told him my predicament.
It was not to be expected that he would be greatly moved at my loss; but he took it with no comment whatever. "We'll wait in town for it," said he, always perfectly civil.
Now, what I had seen of "town" was, to my newly arrived eyes, altogether horrible. If I could possibly sleep at the Judge's ranch, I preferred to do so.
"Is it too far to drive there to-night?" I inquired.
He looked at me in a puzzled manner.
"For this valise," I explained, "contains all that I immediately need; in fact, I could do without my trunk for a day or two, if it is not convenient to send. So if we could arrive there not too late by starting at once—" I paused.
"It's two hundred and sixty-three miles," said the Virginian.
To my loud ejaculation he made no answer, but surveyed me a moment longer, and then said, "Supper will be about ready now." He took my valise, and I followed his steps toward the eating-house in silence. I was dazed.
As we went, I read my host's letter—a brief hospitable message. He was very sorry not to meet me himself. He had been getting ready to drive over, when the surveyor appeared and detained him. Therefore in his stead he was sending a trustworthy man to town, who would look after me and drive me over. They were looking forward to my visit with much pleasure. This was all.
Yes, I was dazed. How did they count distance in this country? You spoke in a neighborly fashion about driving over to town, and it meant—I did not know yet how many days. And what would be meant by the term "dropping in," I wondered. And how many miles would be considered really far? I abstained from further questioning the "trustworthy man." My questions had not fared excessively well. He did not propose making me dance, to be sure: that would scarcely be trustworthy. But neither did he propose to have me familiar with him. Why was this? What had I done to elicit that veiled and skilful sarcasm about oddities coming in on every train? Having been sent to look after me, he would do so, would even carry my valise; but I could not be jocular with him. This handsome, ungrammatical son of the soil had set between us the bar of his cold and perfect civility. No polished person could have done it better. What was the matter? I looked at him, and suddenly it came to me. If he had tried familiarity with me the first two minutes of our acquaintance, I should have resented it; by what right, then, had I tried it with him? It smacked of patronizing: on this occasion he had come off the better gentleman of the two. Here in flesh and blood was a truth which I had long believed in words, but never met before. The creature we call a GENTLEMAN lies deep in the hearts of thousands that are born without chance to master the outward graces of the type.
Between the station and the eating-house I did a deal of straight thinking. But my thoughts were destined presently to be drowned in amazement at the rare personage into whose society fate had thrown me.
Town, as they called it, pleased me the less, the longer I saw it. But until our language stretches itself and takes in a new word of closer fit, town will have to do for the name of such a place as was Medicine Bow. I have seen and slept in many like it since. Scattered wide, they littered the frontier from the Columbia to the Rio Grande, from the Missouri to the Sierras. They lay stark, dotted over a planet of treeless dust, like soiled packs of cards. Each was similar to the next, as one old five-spot of clubs resembles another. Houses, empty bottles, and garbage, they were forever of the same shapeless pattern.
More forlorn they were than stale bones. They seemed to have been strewn there by the wind and to be waiting till the wind should come again and blow them away. Yet serene above their foulness swam a pure and quiet light, such as the East never sees; they might be bathing in the air of creation's first morning. Beneath sun and stars their days and nights were immaculate and wonderful.
Excerpted from The Virginian by Owen Wister. Copyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsI. Enter the Man
II. "When You Call Me That, Smile!"
III. Steve Treats
IV. Deep Into Cattle Land
V. Enter the Woman
VII. Through Two Snows
VIII. The Sincere Spinster
IX. The Spinster Meets the Unknown
X. Where Fancy Was Bred
XI. "You're Goin' to Love Me Before We Get Through"
XII. Quality and Equality
XIII. The Game and the Nation--Act First
XIV. Between the Acts
XV. The Game and the Nation--Act Second
XVI. The Game and the Nation--Last Act
XVII. Scipio Moralizes
XVIII. "Would You Be a Parson?"
XIX. Dr. MacBride Begs Pardon
XX. The Judge Ignores Particulars
XXI. In a State of Sin
XXII. "What Is a Rustler?"
XXIII. Various Points
XXIV. A Letter With a Moral
XXV. Progress of the Lost Dog
XXVI. Balaam and Pedro
XXVII. Grandmother Stark
XXVIII. No Dream to Wake From
XXIX. Word to Bennington
XXX. A Stable on the Flat
XXXI. The Cottonwoods
XXXII. Superstition Trail
XXXIII. The Spinster Loses Some Sleep
XXXIV. "To Fit Her Finger"
XXXV. With Malice Aforethought
XXXVI. At Dunbarton
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It was what made a western a western if this book was the originall bluprint of what a western was it has it. This book was amazing it has many great points great original sayings, the characters in here are original it has some good humor, you just get so taken with the story you cant just put it down. I give this book a high recommendation.
Until last summer, this was just one of those books I had on my 'bucket list'. I bought it and didn't start to read it until two months later. Then, I read it and then, I read it again, dog ear-ing pages that made sense, had notable descriptions, quotations, etc. The Virginian is a classic. Wister takes a long range introduction, as if he had a movie camera in the first few pages, describing what he saw from the train window as everyone noticed that distinctive cow-puncher who was able to corral the wild horse when others failed. And so we meet "The Virginian". The rest of the story unfolds, with fantastic descriptions of the landscape, segues of thought, opinion, politics, etc. For me, it brought the West alive, made me care about the characters and, yes, see how history repeats itself even today. Folks in the old West were concerned about pollution and clean air, just wonder what they would say if they saw our American landscape today. This novel introduced the new American hero and a new way of writing without the Jane Austen angst and insufferable hoity-toity innuendoes. No wonder it created a sensation. It's a great blueprint for aspiring writers as well: just try to write smoothly as omniscient, first person and third as well as Wister does without confusion. If I 'ain't' confused, you won't be. Hmmm, I should read it again . . . after the holidays! Yes, seh!
A must read if you have any interest in the way the west was settled.
The basis for most western novels written since. "Good" cowboy with well defined sense of moarlity v. "Bad" cowboy trying to make his way taking what he thinks to be the easiest route. Good cowboy meets eastern school-marm who struggles with her eastern civilized morals vs. the western vigilante justice. Climax with good cowboy winning his battle with his antagonist AND wins the girl with his wholesome morals. Ebook version had several incidences of dropped pages or pages that had to be navigated to using "go to" function rather than simple page turning; frustrating but not insurmountable.
I must say I admire Owen Wister's restraint. Rather than ruining his novel with too much mindless action, Wister focuses on the more domestic aspects of life in the old West, incorporating his action scenes sparingly. However, I can't say I enjoyed this book as much as most of the other classics I have read. Unfortunately, Wister's story never really "gets off the ground" until probably the last fourth or fifth of the book; before then the story lags and is even incoherent in parts. The narrator known simply as "the tenderfoot" guides the reader through much of the story but occasionally drops out completely, which, though not necessarily a big problem, did strike me as strange. Wister originally wrote the stories that would become The Virginian as serials, or short stories in local newspapers, later combining them into a single volume and crafting a "novel." As a group of short stories, I could get into these--as a novel, not so much. Lest I sound too critical, the story does possess redeeming qualities, however. Wister develops the romance between the Virginian and Miss Wood in a superb manner, and he also interjects his own thoughts into the story on occasion (much like Tolstoy). His portrayal of Judge Henry, well-schooled in law, is marvelous, and he can be astoundingly funny in parts. Ultimately, however, the book, as a novel, falls a little flat. I'd rate this book a 4/9, if that gives you a better idea than the rather limited "five star" system.
“The Virginian’s pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice that sounded almost like a caress, but drawling a very little more than usual, so that there was almost a space between each word, he issued his orders to the man Trampas: ‘When you call me that, smile.’ And he looked at Trampas across the table.” This novel, the first true western that paved the way for other famous authors such as Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour, covers a span of five years and chronicles the acquaintance of the unnamed author/narrator with a strong, silent stranger known only as “The Virginian,” a young man in his twenties who works on Judge Henry’s Shiloh Ranch at Sunk Creek in the Wyoming territory. The account begins when the narrator arrives in Medicine Bow, WY, around 1886, to visit Judge Henry and the Virginian is sent to escort him to Shiloh. During the succeeding years, the Virginian, who was born in old Virginia but had left home at age fourteen and come west, woos the pretty Miss Molly Stark Wood, who comes from Bennington, VT, to be the school teacher at Bear Creek, WY; is made foreman at Shiloh Ranch; and must deal with an ongoing enemy named Trampas, a roving cowboy who works for a while at Shiloh then turns to rustling. Will the Virginian win Miss Wood’s affection? What will happen to Trampas? When I was young and still living at home, I remember seeing a television show also entitled The Virginian (1962-1971), based on characters from this novel. It starred James Drury as the Virginian, Doug McClure as Trampas, and Lee J. Cobb as the Judge. However, the television series bore little resemblance to the plot of the book. The Virginian is an interesting story in which several subplots develop over time. There are numerous references to smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, gambling, and dancing. In addition to several instances in which “curses,” “oaths,” and “profanities” are mentioned, the “d” and “h” words occur a few times and the Lord’s name is occasionally taken in vain. The phrase “son of a -----“ is used as quoted (not spelled out). In fact, this is what Trampas had called the Virginian when the latter responded, “When you call me that, smile.” The nearly equivalent term “ba*t*ard” is found once (completely spelled out). Nathaniel Bluedorn recommended the book in Hand that Rocks the Cradle: 400 Classic Books for Children, but I would urge great caution with younger children unless done as a read aloud where the offending language could be easily edited out. Otherwise, it does present a good, balanced viewpoint of what young manhood should be, with both toughness when needed and gentleness when required.
THE best treatment of masculinity I've ever read in fiction. Delightful.
I had to read this book in history class and loved it. It presents that mystery and excitement of the west that you genreally don't get from history books.
Although not fond of Westerns generally, I devoured this first as a pre-adolescent, in an unabridged, well-annotated version. That edition introduced objects and references that might otherwise have been lost on me--there is an enormous amount of history, and humor, here. The characters and subject matter are engaging, athough the pages of philosophical musings can be tedious.--Just skip them until you're ready for them. This work has given me a lifelong appreciation for the West when it was young, and a special interest in Wister's life and works--he saw the West firsthand. The Virginian is the template for all things 'Western' that came after it, and none has matched it. (I found a 100-year-old copy of its sister work, 'Lin McClean,' in a used bookstore. Aha!)
This novel is highly compelling and maintains an accurate account of the Western era. Each segmeant is incredibly enjoyable, and the language flows quite clearly. Conflict between the character's natural duty and pursuit of love, too, makes it all the more interesting.
This book has the theme of the wildness and the loose morals that were present in the west during the years 1874-1890. The Virginian is sort of like a gypsy and an experienced traveller who has seen it all and is harden by it. This book shows that the west in those days was based on the survival of the fittest and a lack of caring for others. The Virginian out smarts them all and does get his own way by trickery and intellect.
this is the original western written when the old west was still alive and kicking, and the virginian is like robin hood in cowboy incarnate! the plot is interesting and the characters are really complex. there are also funny parts that keep you reading. even wister's introduction is funny. 'when you call me that, smile!'
This was either the ninth or tenth time I have read this book and each time was as pleasurable as the first. The Virginian is the story of a good man, honest and of very strongly solid integrity. It is also the story of a young woman who comes into the appreciation of a rough and untamed West.
For those who love the West this is the first cowboy saga . Owen Twister had cabin in the Teton range and knew intimately about what he wrote.
The first piece of news is that this does not take place in Virginia. (I NEVER SAW THE MOVIES OR THE TV SHOW!) It takes place in Wyoming. Considered by some to be the first Western (or so the internet tells me), this is a series of related stories about the Virginian of the title, who is apparently so impressively manly that the narrator never mentions his name, he is always "the Virginian" doing this or that, or saying whatever. The manly stuff he does involves being a cowboy, catching cattle thieves, and courting the local school marm in a very romantic fashion (and sweet, making allowances for the culture of whenever this takes place, which I think is about 1880).Obviously some of it is a little dated, but it doesn't take away from the story. A little more challenging is that it jumps right in with a lot of dialogue written out in, I guess, "cowpoke dialect" and it is a little grating to keep having to parse that out, but it's used to set the scene initially and then in following episodes, isn't so front and center.
Wister, Owen (1902). The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains.The story begins with an 'easterner' arriving on the train in Medicine Bow, WY to encounter a tall, quiet cowboy originally from Virginia. The tale continues over the next five years and weaves together the lives of the greenhorn, the unnamed cowboy, a schoolmarm from Vermont, and a villainous cowboy named Trampas. Shortly the Virginian is made ranch foreman and begins to court the schoolmarm, Molly Starkwood. His life is marred by continued encounters and conflict with Trampas, the cowhand who later turns to rustling.The author pieced together a string of short stories to create a historical novel - - a western that was one of the first to feature real-life characters rather than mythical figures. The Virginian is a must read for those interested in identifying and understanding the roots of western literature and the portrayal of the American cowboy. lj (Apr 2011)
This was the prototype Western, the one that spawned Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour, Jack Schaefer and even our image of John Wayne. In that sense, the book is at a disadvantage. We've had over a century of follow-ons that have turned many of the themes into clichés: the tall, laconic cowboy; the beautiful young school marm; the villainous rustler.If you can't set those aside, this isn't a book for you...just pass it by. On the other hand, if you can put yourself in mindset where it's 1902 and this is a departure from the dime store novellas and novelettes that are the only Westerns to date, this is worth a read. Wister's portrayal of the original man with no name gives us a thinking character, someone who is more evocative of the intelligent courage and emotional depth of Gary Cooper in High Noon than the shoot-'em-up John Wayne in something like Big Jake. The story is nominally told through the eyes of an inexperienced young man who has come west to visit a friend. This device allows Wister to contrast the genteel society of the East with the wilder existence of Wyoming. I say nominally because, once the comparisons are made, we get the Virginian's story even when the narrator is not present. The result kept me captivated. You know the guy is going to win the struggle with the villain. You know the guy is going to get the girl. And yet, it doesn't matter because the journey there, not the ending, is what's good about this story. In a sense, it's travel literature, a book written by someone who had actually seen the Old West and loved it.On the Gary Cooper front: it's funny that, as I finished the book, I thought, "sounds like a Gary Cooper role." It turns out that it was: 1929 with Victor Fleming directing—somehow I've missed that all my life. I'll have to find a copy.
Substance: Basically a romance, but at least the characters learn something about each other's character after the initial bout of love-at-first-sight (a feature conspicuously missing from the contemporary novels I have read lately). The hero (never named) is something of a contradiction inpersonality: taciturn but turns neat practical jokes; upright but not averse to lynching horse thieves. The Heroine is stalwart but unused to the rugged west, however, she learns to love it as well as her man, after she saves his life.Style: Mostly narrated by an observer, with later omnisicent-narrator passages as the Tenderfoot bows out of the story. Almost a Boswellian effect. Not as dry as I feared, but overdoes the dialect (a feature of books of this era).
Should have read this long ago when I was robbing trains in the Santa Cruz Mountains (no lie). Obviously the proto-Western. Wister sets the tone for all future Western romances. Amazing insight into a pivotal time in Western American history, in this case the gradual decline of the culture of the open range and the settling of the West. Very entertaining and enlightening.
I cannot believe that I sat in American Lit reading Hawthorne when I could have been reading this. If you have never heard of this book, then I am not sure why; just as I am not sure why I had never heard of it. It is surely Romantic, and sometimes Heroic, but there is a depth of emotion, wit, and thought in this work which made me question how American it could be.Of course, the author spent some schooling-time in Europe, and holds a dear enough place for Austen and Shakespeare not to descend into the self-important drear which has so long left American Literature moth-eaten.However, it has also the rawness and adventure which we have been lead to expect from this frontier land. Both the dime-stores and megaplexes have profited so much from this sense of adventure that red-plumed explosions have become ho-hum. There is then a certain irony in the fact that in opening this book, I was shocked and surprised by its emotion more than I have been by an exploding car or knife-weilding killer. Perhaps that says something in and of itself about the repetetive nature of our arts: that we will make something uninteresting two times instead of something interesting once.I could not resist the gentle humor nor the deep-felt influence of both the high British and the Russian realists in this book, and found it surprised me not in the least because it took a road other than either the expected or the contrary.Though the author sometimes falls to that most grievous of sins: telling instead of showing, one gets the impression that this is because he knows his limits and would spare us the blunder of exceeding them. One also sometimes gets the sense of his desire to fondly remember this era, and to Romanticize it, but if that was ever a crime of Literature, it was only laid upon those we didn't like. I like The Virginian, and not the least of which because the author is humble enough to excuse himself from his crimes before making me do it for him. Too many modern books are started by the authors but finished by the readers.
What a delightful book! I hesitate to call it a 'western', per se, but an entertaining story about people in the western areas of the USA back in the late 1800s. The book has some drama and action, but is mainly about people and situations, without a lot of description of cows and cowboys and gunfights. There is humor and sadness, human emotions of all types well described within its pages.This book is going back on the shelf to be read again, and is being classified as a 'favorite'.
The Virginian is cow-puncher living in Wyoming. The melodrama is scant, and the drama is not overly tense. The theme is universal, in portraying the life of a good man. The scope of the theme is narrow. The Virginian is not taking on the world; he's simply meeting the events of his own life with honesty, courage and creativity. This is a relaxed "western" novel, that brought a smile to my face.
The Virginian is a "fix-up" (i.e., a novel cobbled together from previously published short stories with some new material) first published in 1902 that retains a very disjointed, episodic feel. Given that Wister was a good friend of Theodore Roosevelt (and the two men were both friends of Rudyard Kipling), it might be expected that Wister's socio-political weltanschauung will be problematic at best for many modern readers (including this one); such expectations are met and exceeded in the pages of his one enduring novel, from the sneering misogynism (Molly Wood, the unnamed Virginian's love interest, is described as "his" before they even court; after they commence their courtship, Wister refers to the Virginian as "her lord") to the neo-feudal, anti-democratic exceptionalism that would make Ayn Rand proud, The Virginian was often difficult for this reporter to read without scraping the enamel off his teeth. That said, anyone even remotely interested in the western genre (even as manifested in "spaghetti westerns" or Sam Peckinpah films) owes it to himself to read The Virginian at least once; and there are occasional bursts of effective writing, particularly when the Virginian twits a boorish travelling preacher into departing the ranch far earlier than he'd intended (Chapter XXI: "In a State of Sin," far and away the funniest episode of the book), the lynch episode which is Wister's commentary on the so-called "Johnson County War" (Chapter XXXI: "The Cottonwoods" and Chapter XXXII: "Superstition Trail"), and, yes, the showdown between the Virginian and Trampas (Chapter XXXV: "With Malice Aforethought"), which would serve as the bible for the classic 1952 movie High Noon. Readers of a certain mindset may well derive some amusement from the not-so-subtle homoeroticism that permeates The Virginian; "What did you think those saddles and boots was about?," indeed.Richard Slotkin in his Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier Nation in Twentieth-Century America (1992) addresses many of my misgivings about The Virginian, particularly in Chapter 5: "Aristocracy of Violence: Virility, Vigilante Politics, and Red-blooded Fiction, 1895-1910" (subsection: "The Virginian (1902) and the Myth of the Vigilante"). However, Jess Nevins in his The Encylopedia of Fantastic Victoriana regards The Virginian with much more favor than Slotkin (or this reader...) does.
Wonderful, realistic story of how two people survived and prospered in the wild western frontier of America. Beautifully told by a master story teller.
Iove this book!