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S A N F O R D E. M A R O V I T Z Kent State University Romance or Realism? Western Periodical Literature: 1893-1902* Two kinds of American fiction flourished during the decade pre­ ceding the publication of Owen Wister’s The Virginian and Andy Adams’ The Log of a Cowboy in 1902 and 1903 respectively, but the peak of one had already passed, and the heyday of the other was yet to come. The Virginian — with its idealized cowboy hero and schoolmarm heroine, its unredeemable villain, its lynching and its gunplay — had its American origin in the work of James Fenimore Cooper and Bret Harte, but it was nevertheless the first novel to include such an array of the actions and characters that ultimately would become the stock of myriads of “Western” writers from Zane Grey to those of our own day. Although the work was influenced by Howells and James, its pervasive romantic elements constituted a far more important contribution to the develop­ ment of “Western” fiction than did its evident marks of authenticity in language and graphic description. The novel stands as a choice example of the neo-romantic fiction being published at the end of the nineteenth century with its implicit longing for an ideal past in a period of rapid social and economic transformation. The Log of a Cowboy, on the other hand, represents a culminating work in local color realism with a Western setting. Although romanticizing seems apparent in parts of the narrative, the extraordinary characters and adventures associated with a long cattle drive make it difficult to determine precisely where the truth ends and the exaggeration — if any — begins. The episodes described by Adams’ narrator are such as could and often did occur along the trails, and the romantic moments of the life itself — despite the dangers, the hardships, and the usual boredom — illustrate the attrac­ tions that drew young men into the nomadic existence of the cowboy. *This essay has been revised from a paper read at a conference of the Western Literature Association in Austin, Texas: October 13, 1973. 46 Western American Literature Both narratives might well he considered under the general heading of “popular” fiction, though The Virginian immediately became a best­ seller that has never yet gone out of print, and The Log has long received much more attention from devotees of Western Americana than from the reading public at large. Nevertheless, despite their considerable dif­ ferences, each includes many of the same types of incidents and characters present in the other and in thousands of the conventionalized “Westerns” that followed them both — for example: a card game, Indian troubles, tall tales, practical jokes, rustlers, a tenderfoot narrator, and a dramatic gun-battle near the end of the novel. Moreover, both authors used dialect (though not with equal skill) and an episodic construction; both clearly attempted to achieve authenticity; and in both novels the tender­ foot narrator has become a man of experience by the final chapters. With the differences and similarities of these two novels under considera­ tion, then, the chief questions this essay attempts to answer are how and where do they correspond with the “Western” literature, particularly the fiction, that had been published in the better-known popular monthlies during the preceding decade? And which of the two kinds of Western fiction prevailed in the periodicals during that period? I A survey of the Western writing in four popular magazines pub­ lished between 1893 and 1902 helps to provide the answers. By “Western” writing, I refer specifically to narrative prose — either fact or fiction but usually the latter — the principal purpose of which is to relate a story with a peculiarly and particularly Western setting and motif, “Western” here being defined as west of the Mississippi River, north of the Rio Grande, and south of the Canadian border. Excluded from the survey have been stories of logging, railroading, San Francisco metropolitan life, and Indian lore, each of which can be considered a genre in itself for critical analysis. The periodicals used were Harper’s, the Overland Monthly, The Cosmopolitan, and McClure’s, all of which enjoyed a wide circulation, though each was distinctive...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 45-58
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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