1 minute read

Virginian, The: A Horseman of the Plains

The Virginian, Shane

a classic Western novel by Owen Wister, published in 1902. An important influence on later Westerns, The Virginian established a formula that was to become popular for the whole genre through its depiction of a laconic stranger who rides into a community and helps maintain law and order by taking on and defeating the forces of evil. It anticipates such later novels as Jack Schaeffer's Shane and numerous Hollywood Western films. The novel is set in the wide open spaces of Wyoming and, in its concern with the ethics of frontier society, proposes the transplantation of ‘civilized’ values into the wild, ‘natural’ environment of the West: far from being a rough Westerner himself, its hero is from the cultured East. While generally regarded as a pioneer Western novel, The Virginian has obvious antecedents in the fiction of James Fenimore Cooper, which is equally concerned with the role of chivalric values in the world of the frontier. Central episodes include the protagonist's early quarrel with the villain Trampas, when the latter accuses him of cheating in a poker game, and the duel, said to be the first use of this motif in a Western novel, in which he eventually kills Trampas. The Virginian is narrated by a tenderfoot figure who gradually matures during its course, as does the Virginian himself. Ultimately it is an elegy for a way of life that is seen as having recently vanished and belongs, with such works as Cooper's Leatherstocking Series and Twain's writing about life on the Mississippi in the ante-bellum South, to a genre of writing that is both concerned with mythologizing the freedom offered by the frontier and at the same time lamenting its loss.

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Richard Vaughan Biography to Rosanna Warren Biography