The Virginian


The Virginian

A Horseman of the Plains

Owen Wister
Paintings by Frederic Remington
Drawings by Charles M. Russell
Introduction by Thomas McGuane

452 pages


August 1992


$21.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

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."


"With The Virginian, Owen Wister, a frustrated composer, can be said to have fathered the western. This Horatio Alger story set on the open range chronicles the adventures of a principled cowboy known only as “the Virginian,” who brings progress and justice to an untamed Wyoming in the 1890s. His virility is a central motif: "In his eye, in his face, in his step, in the whole man, there dominated a something potent to be felt." The book's vision of the cowboy era is indisputably idealized but no less enjoyable for that. Wister's evocations of the landscape are lyrical. "After the fields to the east, the tawny plain began; and with one faint furrow of river lining its undulations, it stretched beyond sight." Not unexpectedly, the story has its enemy of the good—a murderous cowboy outlaw, Trampas, who despises the Virginian and stalks about threateningly, shadowing the action, until the inevitable face-off at the end. The walk-and-draw finale at sundown will be the Virginian's final test of courage: "A wind seemed to blow his sleeve off his arm, and he replied to it.""—Wall Street Journal

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