The Virginian

A huge thank you to Ella for choosing The Virginian as this month's selection for the Slaves of Golconda. Thank you, because it never would have occurred to me to read this book otherwise. It was terrific!

The Virginian is a Western. The plot outline sounds stupid and generic: Tenderfoot Nameless First Person Narrator goes out west and meets Handsome Strong Silent Hero Who Lives By A Perfect Code of Honor And Therefore Must Occasionally Take The Law Into His Own Hands (aka "The Virginian"). Tenderfoot also meets Beautiful Young Schoolteacher Who Loves Hero But Fears Her Family Won't Accept Him Because His Lineage And Manners Aren't As Classy As Hers. Oh yes, and there's also Mean Drunken Yellow-bellied Bad Guy Who Makes Things Difficult For Hero.

How does this book rise above these generic plot elements? Well, for one, it has a bit of humor. One of my favorite parts is Schoolteacher's first appearance in the book. She's written a letter inquiring about the teaching position, and Tenderfoot, Virginian, and Minor Character are discussing it. The letter is hilarious: she inquires whether she could sue if the Wyoming climate ruins her complexion, she comments that she may be unsuited for teaching because she leaves out the "u" in "honor," and finally she signs it "your very sincere spinster." Though Minor Character "over whose not highly civilized head certain portions of the letter had highly passed" takes the letter at face value ("I guess that means she's forty"), The Virginian immediately susses that she couldn't be more than twenty, and thus "the seed of love" is sown.

For another, it is so much about the land. Here's The Virginian and Schoolteacher on their honeymoon:
They passed through the gates of the foot-hills, following the stream up among them. The outstretching fences and the widely trodden dust were no more. Now and then they rose again into view of the fields and houses down in the plain below. But as the sum of the miles and hours grew, they were glad to see the road less worn with travel, and the traces of men passing from sight. The ploughed and planted country, that quilt of many-colored harvests which they had watched yesterday, lay in another world which they had watched yesterday, lay in another world from this where they rode now. No hand but nature's had sown these crops of yellow flowers, these willow thickets and tall cottonwoods. Somewhere in a passage of red rocks the last sign of wagon wheels was lost, and after this the trail became a wild mountain trail. . . . Full solitude was around them now, so that their words grew scarce, and when they spoke it was with low voices.

Sigh! This book was written almost at the time that it takes place (first published in 1902). Owen Wister was really there. The characters may be idealized heroic/romantic stereotypes, but Wyoming -- that's what he really saw!

The Virginian is not without flaws. The worst, in my opinion, is that for much of the book Tenderfoot is narrating events, conversations, thoughts, and feelings that he wasn't privy to. Once or twice his deep friendship with Schoolteacher is briefly alluded to, and we must assume she told him "everything" -- but it doesn't quite work. And Tenderfoot is not a well-defined character. Why is he even in Wyoming? Maybe Wister didn't want to delve too deeply into Tenderfoot's character for, ahem, other reasons, such as the fact that Tenderfoot's first description of The Virginian is "a slim young giant, more beautiful than pictures."

Another thing I didn't like was that although it's mentioned many times that The Virginian must take matters into his own hands because the judicial system is so corrupt, we don't really see the corruption. I would have liked the corruption to be more integral to the plot since it's so integral to The Virginian's motivations.

Still and all, I love Westerns, and I love idealized romantic heroes. This one was a page-turner. I was so worried that The Virginian might not live through the final showdown with Bad Guy that I actually flipped ahead to check -- something I normally would never, never do.

Thanks again, Ella!


  • There was a good deal of humor, and I laughed at times but never really took note of them. The letter, for instance. And it made me wonder that the Virginian would fall in love so quickly with the first anonymous lady who appears in his world.

    posted by Blogger Quillhill on 3:53 PM  

  • Exactly, Tenderfoot isn't very well defined at all. I still haven't figured out why the Virginian liked him and why the Virginian invited him to Idaho where he makes the mistake of showing up early, just in time for the lynching.

    posted by Blogger Stefanie on 4:09 PM  

  • Hi. I really liked The Virginian, too--for many of the same reasons. I am not one to read westerns so this came as a happy surprise to me. Did you also catch how the narrator implies if he were a woman even he would like the Virginian? That one made me raise my eyebrows (LOL), but I figured it was written in 1902, so perhaps those sentiments wouldn't sound quite like they do now!

    posted by Anonymous Danielle on 4:45 PM  

  • Glad you liked it, Julie!

    posted by Anonymous Ella on 5:08 PM  

  • Hi Julie!
    It always makes me happy when someone admits to liking westerns. I hear too many people say they're willing to read just about anything. . .except westerns.


    posted by Blogger sfp on 8:05 PM  

  • I loved those descriptions of the wilderness too. Too bad there weren't more of them.

    posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 11:59 PM  

  • Terrific humorous post, although I'm sorry you read another dud! I remember that library method you described with such flair.

    My book choosing methods not in order of priority:
    1) New or old book (if I haven't read it) by an author I love

    2) Use Julie's and other reading blogs when the book reveiwed appears to be of my taste, to weed out the duds and head for the"wowsers", thereby saving some library-shelf pondering time, because I still become lost in my own world of reading in any reading environment

    3)Choose a book (according to my mood), from my neon green luminescent (lol) endless list of "wanna-reads."

    4)There is little I do not want to read so that makes it hard but I thought of an idea I heavily use at the end of this list.

    5) I've kept lists from past book groups of the books "not chosen"; many of those "rejects" I read since or before; they're wonderful finds and I scour notes I took at book clubs of books other people mentioned in passing.

    6)My daughters are voracious readers and recommend books they read for pleasure and those they sink their teeth into from Advanced Placment English Classes. Sometimes, I re-read one because I initally read it so many moons ago. ;). Other times, it's a treat to have an in house review of a classic I haven't read, since my daughters and I usually have similar reading tastes.

    6)Oh, I agree with you for how a book feels to hold and read, plus the font style and layout!!!

    7) I just thought of a source that I ADORE for choosing books for all ages:

    Literature Lover's Book of Lists by Judie L.H. Strouf whose degress are from your neck of the woods, ironically. Byline is "Serious Trivia for the Bibliophile." I will use this idea of reviewing her book for my next post and email you before the post goes up. Busy art show time. I plan on a new post before Mother's Day, if you wish to link to my write up with much more personal tidbit info from using the book: pro/con etc.

    I also have other sources but even though I'm a nightowl I'm too bleery to pull it out of my mashed potatoed brain.

    posted by Blogger Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) on 4:03 AM  

  • bleary (I'm not retyping that whole comment above so any other bloopers/typos/etc's stand lol!)

    posted by Blogger Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) on 4:04 AM  

  • you claim that this book is "stereotypical". This novel is what started most of the stereotypes about westerns you know of today. Perhaps when reading a novel with history behind it you should educate yourself on it first before placing your opinion.

    posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7:26 AM