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Friday, 6 February 2009

10 westerns you must read - four

The Virginian: A Horseman of the plains
Owen Wister
Originally published 1902

If Stagecoach was the movie that invented all the western cliches then The Virginian was it's literary equivalent. No other book has had such a shaping influence on all that followed it. Even western writers who have never read this novel will find themselves at one time of another using themes or situations that came from this seminal and important slice of American literature.

The current UK Oxford University Press edition of the novel features a detailed and academic introduction as well as extensive explanatory notes. The book also contains Wister's long neglected essay on The Evolution of the Cow Puncher.

This was the first western to be taken seriously. Indeed when it was first published there was nothing else about except for the sensational dime novels. For the first time readers had a book that took a mostly serious and realistic look at life out West. Course when the flights of wild fancy came, as they do often, they seem all the more real because of the authentic feel of the narrative.

Readers today will find the style old fashioned but with perseverance it becomes an easy, if verbose read. And of course there's that line - when you call me that, smile!

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