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C H R I S T I N E B O L D University College, London How the Western Ends: Fenimore Cooper to Frederic Remington Come back — do the 4 volume novel about a South Western Natty Bumpo [jic] — Believe me, I know. Remington to Wister, Dec. 18991 When Frederic Remington gave that advice to his defecting col­ league, he did not acknowledge that he had already produced his own version of the Leatherstocking Tales. During 1897 and 1898, he had been writing the five short stories about Sundown that were collected in 1899 as Sundown Leflare.2 That volume has a cyclical form and a cen­ tral theme which are reminiscent of the Leatherstocking series’ design. Its tone is different, however: the main figure remains more comical and grotesque than Natty; and the cycle is presented by a first-person nar­ rator, a visiting eastern artist, who is always casual about the situation and its implications. Remington’s fiction is not as obviously important as Fenimore Cooper’s, but its similarities to the Leatherstocking Tales endow it with a considerable significance within the popular western genre. Like a great deal of western fiction, Remington’s works begin with the model created by Cooper; but Remington developed from that 1Quoted in Ben Merchant Vorpahl, My dear Wister: The Frederic RemingtonOwen Wister Letters (Palo Alto, CA: American West Publishing Co., 1972), p. 283. 2Sundown Leflare (N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, 1899). Page numbers in paren­ theses in the text refer to this edition. 118 Western American Literature paradigm increasingly melancholy stories, which are unlike the narratives of other popular western authors and yet are true to the vision of the Leatherstocking myth. His fiction constitutes an important offshoot to the main evolution of Westerns, but one which was fated to wither and die. As a publishing venture, Sundown Leflare was disastrous. It was not widely reviewed or noticed or sold and by 1907, when he had to list his books for Perriton Maxwell, the art critic, Remington silently expunged both it and John Ermine, his novel, from the record of his achievements. He was denying his most interesting forays into fiction. Remington, an artist before an author and a journalist before a novelist, came to fiction by degrees, and hesitantly. He looked for quali­ fying devices which would mark clearly the point where reportage ended and invention began. Thus, when his first attempt at fiction, “The Affair of the - th of July,” appeared among the journalistic treatments of current and recent events which were collected as Pony Tracks (1895), it was the only piece not to be told straightforwardly by the first-person narrator who inhabits the other reports. The story is based on an actual event, the 1894 Pullman riots of Chicago, and it expands that incident into a furor of carnage and death as soldiers and anarchists clash in an imaginary, apocalyptic fury. The fantasy is conveyed in a letter written by a military aide-de-camp present at the rioting; the epistolary device serves as an obvious demarcation between happening and report, actuality and fantasy. The division between these two categories is emphasized further in the clumsy ending: “Of course, my dear friend, all this never really happened, but it might very easily have happened if the mob had continued to monkey with the military buzz-saw.”3 In his first uniformly Active collection, Sundown Leflare, Remington hedged the delivery of the fiction around with even more qualificatory devices. The first story opens, as usual, with the first-person narrator, but his voice is only the last in the line of narrators. Old Paint, an Indian, is telling a legend which he heard from his father, who was told it by the grandfather. That legend, spoken in the Crow language, is being translated and interpreted by Sundown, a half-breed, to the white narrator, who passes it on to the reader. “Our” narrator’s comment — “the problem in this case was how to eliminate ‘Sundown’ from ‘Paint.’ So much for interpreters.” (p. 4) — must rebound on every participant 3Pony Tracks (1895; rpt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961), p. 144. Christine Bold 119 in the chain of narrative, including...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 117-135
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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