The Virginian (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

The Virginian (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

by Owen Wister, John G. Cawelti

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The Virginian, by Owen Wister, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.


The western is one of America’s most important and influential contributions to world culture. And it was Owen Wister’s The Virginian, first published in 1902, that created the familiar archetypes of character, setting, and action that still dominate western fiction and film.  


The Virginian's characters include: The hero, tall, taciturn, and unflappable, confident in his skills, careful of his honor, mysterious in his background; the heroine, the “schoolmarm from the East,” dedicated to civilizing the untamed town, but willing to adapt to its ways—up to a point; and the villain, who is a liar, a thief, a killer, and worst of all, a coward beneath his bluster. Its setting—the lonely small town in the midst of the vast, empty, dangerous but overwhelmingly beautiful landscape—plays so crucial a role that it may be regarded as one of the primary characters. And its action—the cattle roundup, the capture of the rustlers, the agonizing moral choices demanded by “western justice,” and the climactic shoot-out between hero and villain—shaped the plots of the thousands of books and movies that followed.


John G. Cawelti has published ten books, including Apostles of the Self-Made Man, Adventure, Mystery and Romance, The Spy Story, Leon Forrest: Introductions and Interpretations, and The Six-Gun Mystique Sequel. He has also published about seventy essays in the fields of American literature, cultural history, and popular culture, and has made oral presentations at more than one hundred universities and scholarly conferences.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781411433434
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 06/01/2009
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 89,322
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

From Stefanie E. Sobelle’s Introduction to The Virginian


Wister shared this vision of the West with his friends Theodore Roosevelt and Frederic Remington. Roosevelt created a powerful political rhetoric out of the myth of the West by riding to the presidency of the United States as a reforming Rough Rider. The theme of the hero from the West reforming a corrupted federal government would be echoed in many ways throughout the twentieth century. The artist Remington created a striking visualization of the Wild West (his works would strongly influence the development of the movie western.)

All three—Wister, Remington, and Roosevelt—had originally gone west in hopes of curing various illnesses, illnesses that some scholars think reflected the stresses of the changing social and political positions of their class. In the West, these men found not only improvement in their health, but a new sense of heroic manliness and regenerative power. Like many Americans, they responded positively to what Roosevelt called “the strenuous life.” In addition, Wister and Roosevelt, influenced by the racist ideology of many Americans in the later nineteenth century, believed that the most important American social and political institutions had been created by men of Anglo-Saxon descent. In his popular history of America, The Winning of the West (1889–1896), Roosevelt treated the American settlement of the West as part of the historical movement of Anglo-Saxons toward world domination. Wister shared with Roosevelt the view that Anglo-Saxon manliness found its most intense contemporary expression in the West.

Though he apparently first thought of the cowboy as the last romantic hero, Wister increasingly understood the Virginian’s story as a mythical parable of moral regeneration and the reform of political and social corruption in America. When he rededicated a new edition of the book in 1911 to Theodore Roosevelt (included in this edition), he emphasized Roosevelt’s role as a heroic reformer fighting a corrupted federal government and an increasingly decadent American society. “After nigh half-a-century of shirking and evasion, Americans are beginning to look at themselves and their institutions straight; to perceive that Firecrackers and Orations once a year, and selling your vote or casting it for unknown nobodies, are not enough attention to pay to the Republic.” He went on to suggest that the story of the Virginian was a mythical embodiment of the heroic redemption of American culture. “If this book be anything more than an American story, it is an expression of American faith”.

Many historians, most notably Richard Slotkin and G. Edward White, have showed how conservative Americans in the late nineteenth century were drawn to this vision of the West as a source of moral and political regeneration. But this idea was not solely the property of conservatives. More democratically inclined Americans also believed in the redemptive power of the western experience. In 1893 Chicago held the World’s Columbian Exposition, a great world’s fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. On the Midway Plaisance, the entertainment area of the fair, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show thrilled visitors with daily performances. Nearby, at a congress of scholars held in conjunction with the exposition, the young historian Frederick Jackson Turner delivered his first paper, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” In it he argued that the most important values of American culture—individualism, nationalism, and democracy—derived from the simpler society of the frontier and that these values had been continually regenerated by successive frontier experiences. Now that the Bureau of the Census had announced, in 1890, the closing of the frontier, Turner feared the erosion of these democratic values in an increasingly class-dominated and hierarchical America.

Thus, at the end of the nineteenth century both liberals and conservatives projected their concerns about thee social trends of industrialism and urbanization into an idealization of the West that expressed both fascination with the openness and adventure of the Wild West and hope for social and moral regeneration. Wister captures this mood very effectively in The Virginian. His novel deeply influenced the development of the western in literature, drama, and film, with early popular westerns exemplifying similar hopes for regeneration. However, as the twentieth century progressed, bringing with it economic upheavals and global wars, westerns grew darker and less optimistic. Though even in movies of the 1940s, singing cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers could foil the plots of Nazis and Japanese spies, the vision of more serious creators of the western grew increasingly skeptical about the idea of social and moral regeneration in the Wild West. Historians of the western have clearly traced this progression from The Virginian through the more complex and ironic vision of John Ford to the end of the heroic West in films like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and Ride the High Country.

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The Virginian 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 109 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Blackbirrd More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read if you have any interest in the way the west was settled.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
TheQuillPen More than 1 year ago
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.
HomeSchoolBookReview More than 1 year ago
“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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
THE best treatment of masculinity I've ever read in fiction. Delightful.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!)
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!'
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
delphica on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
eduscapes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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)
TadAD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
librisissimo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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).
Nebutron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Terpsichoreus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
fuzzi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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'.
realistTheorist on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
uvula_fr_b4 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful, realistic story of how two people survived and prospered in the wild western frontier of America. Beautifully told by a master story teller.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Iove this book!