Posted by: Tom Owen | August 18, 2009

Life With Father (1935) – Clarence Day, SPS 1892

Life with Father
(from Wikipedia)

Life with Father is the title of a humorous autobiographical book of stories compiled in 1935 by Clarence Day, Jr., which was adapted into a 1939 Broadway play by Lindsay and Crouse, which was, in turn, made into a 1947 movie and a television series.

Biographical Notes
Clarence Shepard Day, Jr. (November 18, 1874–December 28, 1935) was an American author. Born in New York City, he graduated from St. Paul’s School and Yale University in 1896. The following year, he joined the New York Stock Exchange, and became a partner in his father’s Wall Street brokerage firm. Day enlisted in the Navy in 1898, but developed crippling arthritis and spent the remainder of his life as a semi-invalid.

Day was a vocal proponent of giving women the right to vote, and contributed satirical cartoons for U.S. suffrage publications in the 1910s.

Day achieved lasting fame in literary circles for his comment, “The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead.”

Day died in New York City shortly after finishing Life with Father, without ever getting to experience its success on Broadway or in Hollywood.

Clarence Day wrote humorously about his family and life. The stories of his father, Clarence “Clare” Day, Senior, were first printed in the New Yorker magazine. They portray a rambunctious, overburdened Wall Street broker who demands that everything from his family should be just so. The more he rails against his staff, his cook, his wife, his horse, salesmen, holidays, his children and the inability of the world to live up to his impossible standards, the more comical and lovable he becomes to his own family who love him despite it all.

First published in 1936, shortly after his death, Day’s book is a picture of New York upper middle class family life in the 1890s. The stories are filled with affectionate irony. Day’s understated, matter-of-fact style underlines the comedy in everyday situations.

Broadway Adaptation
The play ran until June 15, 1947, and finished its run at the Alvin Theatre on July 12, 1947, closing after 3,224 performances. It starred Howard Lindsay, his wife Dorothy Stickney, and Teresa Wright.

1947 Film
The movie was adapted by Donald Ogden Stewart from the play by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, which was based on the book by Clarence Day, Jr.. It was directed by Michael Curtiz.

In keeping with the autobiography, all the children in the family (all boys) are redheads. It stars William Powell, Irene Dunne, Elizabeth Taylor, Edmund Gwenn, ZaSu Pitts, Jimmy Lydon and Martin Milner. A teenaged Elizabeth Taylor plays a beautiful house guest with whom Clarence’s son becomes infatuated.

Posted by: Tom Owen | August 18, 2009

Freedom of Expression (1981) – Archibald Cox, SPS 1958

Freedom of Expression


Image: Wikipedia.

Biographical Notes (from Wikipedia)
Archibald Cox, Jr., (May 17, 1912 – May 29, 2004) was an American lawyer and law professor who served as U.S. Solicitor General under President John F. Kennedy; he became best known as the first special prosecutor for the Watergate scandal. In his scholarly career, he was a pioneering expert on labor law and also an authority on constitutional law.

Cox, the Senate Watergate committee, and U.S. District Judge John J. Sirica battled with the Nixon Administration over whether Nixon could be compelled to yield up those tapes in response to a grand jury subpoena. In an event widely dubbed the Saturday Night Massacre, President Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. Rather than comply with this order, Attorney General Richardson resigned, leaving his second-in-command, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus in charge of the Justice Department. Ruckelshaus likewise refused to fire Cox, and he, too, resigned.

These resignations left Solicitor General Robert Bork as the highest-ranking member of the Justice Department; insisting that he believed the decision unwise but also that somebody had to carry out the president’s orders, Bork fired Cox. Upon being fired, Cox stated, “whether ours shall be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people to decide.”

“Only by uninhibited publication can the flow of information be secured and the people informed concerning men, measures, and the conduct of Government. Only by freedom of expression can the people voice their grievances and obtain redress. Only by speech and the press can they exercise the power of criticism. Only by freedom of speech, of the press, and of association can people build political power including the power to change the men who govern them.”

Freedom of Expression primarily concerns itself with the First Amendment.  Cox explains the history of this unalienable right – from the framers’ early days of protesting to the right to petition government for the redress of grievances.  He notes how the democratic system of majority rule implies a number of dissenters, and freedom of expression is therefore necessary to the entire process.  Cox examines the judgments by the Supreme Court regarding the First Amendment, and the fine balance between individual rights and the good of the nation.  Finally, Cox shows how the Court has progressed over the years in terms of the Amendment, and if the current views on freedom of expression are what the founding fathers envisioned.

In 1971, as a Harvard law professor, Cox gave a speech defending the Constitutional rights of pro-war speakers.  His ideology was clearly not what the audience wanted to hear – he was shouted off stage, assailed with flying objects, and later was forced to escape with the other speakers through the building’s steam tunnels.  Cox’s passion for this topic should be duly recognized.

Cox is the nephew of Maxwell Perkins, editor of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Wolfe.

Posted by: Tom Owen | August 17, 2009

The Ice Storm (1994) – Rick Moody SPS 1979

The Ice Storm
(from Wikipedia)

The Ice Storm is a 1994 American novel by Rick Moody. The novel was widely acclaimed by readers and critics alike, hailed as a funny, acerbic, and moving hymn to a dazed and confused era of American life.

In 1997, the novel was adapted into an acclaimed feature film directed by Ang Lee, featuring a cast including Joan Allen, Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood and Tobey Maguire. The film also marked the screen debut of Katie Holmes as Libbets Casey.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Biographical Notes
Moody was born in New York City and grew up in several of the Connecticut suburbs, including Darien and New Canaan, where he later set stories and novels. He graduated from St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire and Brown University. He received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University in 1986.

Plot Summary
The novel is set before, during and after Thanksgiving, leading up to a threatening ice storm and centers on two neighboring families, the Hoods and the Williamses, and the difficulties they have dealing with the tumultuous political and social climate of the day, in affluent suburban Connecticut, in 1973.

The novel is narrated from four different perspectives, each of them a member of the two families, who are promoting their own opinion and views of the several complications that arise throughout the novel, including their encounters and daily life. The Hood family is overridden with lies: Ben is currently in an affair with his married neighbor Janey, his wife Elena shoplifts, her daughter ventures on her own sexual liaisons with both females and males of her age, including her neighbors Mikey and Sandy.

The Hoods are Ben, Elena, Paul and Wendy and the Williamses are Jim, Janey, Mikey, and Sandy. The story focuses on a brief period of time when a major ice storm hits their town of New Canaan, Connecticut, just as both families are melting down from the parents’ alcoholism, escapism and adultery, and their children’s drug use and sexual experimentation.

Themes and Analysis
The novel’s central themes are the loss of innocence and moral compass in middle-upper class Americans, and the 1970s era. It also deals with several underlying themes, including the Watergate scandal and suburban secrets, such as sexual experimentation by youths, and the same thing being done by the adults who are failing to be role models for their children, as well as their absence from their children’s lives, which causes the most significant problems in the novel. The novel is also set during the time of the sexual revolution, which is obviously a central part since a recurring theme is sexuality. The rapidly changing sexual era is reflected in the lives of both families, who, as the revolution approached, have experimented with new, taboo sexual acts, such as incest and adultery.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Critical reception
The Ice Storm was largely commended for its audacity and the many daring subjects explored in the novel.

Critic Adam Begley of the Chicago Tribune called the novel: “A bitter and loving and damning tribute to the American family…. This is a good book, packed with keen observation and sympathy for human failure” while The Guardian called it “one of the wittiest books about family life ever written.” Amanda Heller of The Boston Globe stated “Moody brings this profusion of metaphor to order with a fierce, subversive intelligence. His characters, drawn with a manic acuity that isn’t fully accounted for until the end, stay with us long after we’ve finished reading.”

The novel was a moderate success commercially; however its sales were boosted in 1997 with the release of the film adaptation.

Film Adaptation
The film adaptation of The Ice Storm featured a cast including Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire and Elijah Wood. The film was a succès d’estime as an art house film and critically acclaimed despite a poor box office, however it gained a modest reception on subsequent home video releases. While remaining more or less faithful to the book, some details were changed. Most notably, Weaver and Jamey Sheridan’s characters were named Janey and Jim Carver, while in Moody’s book, their surname was Williams.

Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better

It goes without saying that email is one of the most important tools in 21st century communication. Unlike carrier pigeons, telegrams, or smoke signals, the person on the other end of the message receives your thoughts almost immediately. This instant gratification is usually helpful. But for people who type before they think, poorly-worded emails have reached the person before you realize you’ve screwed up. Will Schwalbe (with New York Times Op Ed editor David Shipley) wants to help.

Biographical Notes
As an undergraduate at Yale, Schwalbe became interested in Asian literature through a history course. After graduating, he worked as a noted travel journalist in Hong Kong while learning more about Southeast Asian literature. He put his experiences to good use as the senior vice president and editor-in-chief of William Morrow, where he published numerous Asian texts in translation – for example, the first Vietnamese fiction published in the U.S. Schalwbe later worked as senior vice-president and editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books.

Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, praises Send as a modern version of Strunk and White’s seminal Elements of Style. Goleman describes the difficulty of policing oneself when communicating electronically – since there is no immediate visual or auditory feedback, an offensive email is sent without due realization. Email from family and friends are often mixed up with formal messages. And with the immediacy of the Internet, once you press “Send,” there’s rarely a second chance. It takes experience and diligence to understand how your phrasing can affect a person you can’t see. The opening sentence is, “Bad things can happen on email.”

Send describes email etiquette in both personal and business situations – the first definitive guide to do so. The book is efficient and rife with anecdotes and real-life email exchanges to better illustrate points. Topics covered include the importance of the subject line, reply vs. reply all, informal vs. formal greetings, and when to bcc recipients. Chapter headings include “The Emotional Email” and “The Email That Can Land You In Jail.” The title, as well as an obvious reference to the “send” button, is an acronym – a handy email checklist. S.E.N.D. stands for Simple, Effective, Necessary, and Done.

Send was published first in 2007, and after great critical reception (including an appearance by Schwalbe on The Colbert Report), the book was revised in 2008.

Will Schwalbe is a guest on The Colbert Report on 6/20/2007 discussing email etiquette.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Send“, posted with vodpod

“The Upper Berth” – Short Story

I first read F. Marion Crawford’s story “The Upper Berth” in elementary school in a ghost-story collection.  I still remember the nightmares – this story will scare the bejeezus out of you.  This post is adapted from his Wikipedia entry.


Image: Wikipedia.

Biographical Notes
Francis Marion Crawford (August 2, 1854 – April 9, 1909) was an American writer noted for his many novels, especially those set in Italy, and for his classic weird and fantastic stories.

In 1879 he went to India, where he studied Sanskrit and edited in Allahabad The Indian Herald. Returning to America in February of 1881, he continued to study Sanskrit at Harvard University for a year and for two years contributed to various periodicals, mainly The Critic.

In December of 1882 he produced his first novel, Mr Isaacs, a brilliant sketch of modern Anglo-Indian life mingled with a touch of Oriental mystery. This book had an immediate success, and its author’s promise was confirmed by the publication of Dr Claudius (1883).

In May of 1883 he returned to Italy, where he made his permanent home. Over one half of his novels are set in Italy. He wrote three long historical studies of Italy and was well advanced with a history of Rome in the Middle Ages when he died. This accounts perhaps for the fact that, in spite of his nationality, Marion Crawford’s books stand apart from any distinctively American current in literature.

The Saracinesca series is perhaps known to be his best work, with the third in the series, Don Orsino (1892) set against the background of a real estate bubble, told with effective concision. The second volume is Sant’ Ilario [Hilary] (1889). A fourth book in the series, Corleone (1897), was the first major treatment of the Mafia in literature, and used the now-familiar but then-original device of a priest unable to testify to a crime because of the Seal of the Confessional; the novel is not one of his major works, having failed to live up to the standard set by the books earlier in the series.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Crawford himself was fondest of Khaled: A Tale of Arabia (1891), a story of a genie (genius is Crawford’s word) who becomes human, which was reprinted (1971) in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series of the early 1970s.

Several of his short stories, such as “The Upper Berth” (1886; written in 1885), “For the Blood Is the Life” (1905, a vampiress tale), “The Dead Smile” (1899), and “The Screaming Skull” (1908), are often-anthologized classics of the horror genre.

He is mentioned in Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night (edited by Maxwell Perkins, SPS 1902):  “Until one o’clock Baby Warren lay in bed, reading one of Marion Crawford’s curiously inanimate Roman stories …”

Read for Free
“The Upper Berth,” a story about a haunted room on a schooner, is available from Project Gutenberg:  http:/

Maxwell Perkins – Editor – Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe

This entry doesn’t strictly count as a “book” per se, but Perkins made significant contributions to 20th century American literature.  An overview of his life and career is adapted from Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

After working as a reporter for The New York Times, Perkins joined the venerable publishing house of Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1910. At the time he joined it, Scribner’s was known for publishing eminently respectable authors such as John Galsworthy, Henry James, and Edith Wharton. However, much as he admired these older giants, Perkins wished to publish younger writers.

Unlike most editors, he actively sought out promising new artists and made his first big find in 1919 when he signed F. Scott Fitzgerald. This was no easy task, for no one at Scribner’s except Perkins had liked The Romantic Egotist, the working title of Fitzgerald’s first novel, and it was rejected. Even so, Perkins worked with Fitzgerald to drastically revise the manuscript and then lobbied it through the house until he wore down his colleagues’ resistance.

The publication of This Side of Paradise (1920) marked the arrival of a new literary generation that would always be associated with Perkins. Fitzgerald’s profligacy and alcoholism put great strain on his relationship with Perkins. Nonetheless, Perkins remained his friend as well as his editor to the end of Fitzgerald’s short life, advancing him money, making personal loans, and encouraging the unstable writer in every way. Perkins rendered yeoman service as an editor too, particularly in helping Fitzgerald with The Great Gatsby (1925), his masterpiece, which benefited substantially from Perkins’ criticism.

It was through Fitzgerald that Perkins met Ernest Hemingway, publishing his first major novel, The Sun Also Rises, in 1926. A daring book for the times, Perkins fought for it over objections to Hemingway’s profanity raised by traditionalists in the firm. The commercial success of Hemingway’s next novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929), which rose to number one on the best-seller list, put an end to questions about Perkins’ editorial judgment.

The greatest professional challenge Perkins ever faced was posed by Thomas Wolfe, whose talent was matched only by his lack of artistic self-discipline. Unlike most writers, who are often blocked, words poured out of Wolfe. A blessing in some ways, this was a curse too, as Wolfe was greatly attached to each sentence he wrote. After a tremendous struggle, Perkins induced Wolfe to cut 90,000 words from his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel (1929).

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Although his reputation as an editor is most closely linked to these three, Perkins worked with many other writers. He was the first to publish J.P. Marquand and Erskine Caldwell. His advice was responsible for the enormous success of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, whose The Yearling (1938) grew out of suggestions made by Perkins. It became a runaway best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize.

Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country (1946) was another highly successful Perkins find. His last discovery was James Jones, who approached Perkins in 1945. Perkins persuaded Jones to abandon the novel he was working on at that time and launched him on what would become From Here to Eternity (1951). By this time Perkins’ health was failing and he did not live to see its success, nor that of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1952), which was dedicated to his memory.

Perkins died on June 17, 1947 in Stamford, Connecticut.

Read for Free
This Side of Paradise is available to read, for free, from DailyLit:

Posted by: Tom Owen | August 7, 2009

The 4-Hour Workweek (2007) – Timothy Ferriss, SPS 1995

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (#1 NYT Bestseller)

Biographical Notes
Where to begin?  I can’t really call Ferriss a “Renaissance man,” because that phrase conjures up images of stodgy intellectuals.

According to his blog , his “resume” includes:

  • First American in history to hold a Guinness World Record in tango
  • Advisor to more than 30 world record holders in professional and Olympic sports
  • National Chinese kickboxing champion
  • Horseback archer (yabusame) in Nikko, Japan
  • 2009 Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute
  • MTV breakdancer in Taiwan
  • Hurling competitor in Ireland
  • Wired Magazine’s “Greatest Self-Promoter of 2008″

Talk about living your life to the fullest.


Image: Wikipedia.

Summary (from Wikipedia)

In the book Ferriss uses the acronym DEAL for the four main chapters.  It stands for: Definition, Elimination, Automation, and Liberation.

Definition means to figure out what a person wants, get over fears, see past society’s “expectations”, and figure out what it will really cost to get where a person wants to go.

Elimination is about time management, or rather about not managing time. This is achieved applying the 80/20 rule to focus only on those tasks that contribute the majority of benefit. There’s a difference, Ferriss says, between efficiency and effectiveness. The book’s emphasis is on effectiveness.

Automation is about building a sustainable, automatic source of income. This includes techniques such as drop-shipping, automation, Google Adwords and Adsense, and outsourcing.

Liberation is dedicated to the successful automation of one’s lifestyle and the liberation from a geographical location and job. Incidentally, Ferriss notes that if somebody has a regular job, the order of steps will be DELA, not DEAL.

The book asserts that technology such as email, instant messaging, and Internet-enabled PDAs complicate life rather than simplify it.  It advocates hiring virtual assistants from developing countries such as India to free up personal time.

Short video by Ferriss summarizing his book.

You can read the first chapter of The 4-Hour Workweek for free from MSNBC at

EDIT: Want to design the cover for Ferriss’s new book, tentatively titled Becoming Superhuman?  Head here:

Twelve O’Clock High


(Wikipedia) Publicity shot of Gregory Peck in Twelve O'Clock High (1949)

Biographical Notes
After graduating from St. Paul’s and Yale, Beirne Lay, Jr. enlisted in the army and started writing pieces based on his aviation experience.  He returned to active duty at the onset of World War II and became commander of a bomber group.

Lay adapted his classic WWII aviation novel Twelve O’Clock High into a widely acclaimed movie starring Gregory Peck.  The following summary is adapted from the Wikipedia article of the  film adaptation.

Colonel Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill) is the commanding officer of the 918th Bomb Group, a hard-luck B-17 unit suffering from poor morale. He has become too close to his men and is troubled by the losses sustained in the early attempts at daylight precision bombing over German-held territory.

Brigadier General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck), who commanded the first B-17 group to fight over Europe and is a long-time friend of Colonel Davenport, is Davenport’s replacement.

Savage finds his new command in disarray and begins to address the discipline problems, dealing with everyone so harshly that the men begin to detest him.

The 918th resumes combat operations, and Savage continues to earn everyone’s enmity with his harsh post-mission critiques. However, the airmen and pilots begin to change their minds about him after he leads them on a mission in which the 918th is the only group to bomb the target and all of the aircraft make it back safely.


A Journey in Other Worlds

Biographical Notes (adapted from Wikipedia)
John Jacob Astor IV (July 13, 1864 – April 15, 1912) was an American millionaire businessman, real estate builder, inventor, writer, a member of the prominent Astor family, and a lieutenant colonel in the Spanish-American War. He died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

John Jacob Astor IV was the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor whose fortune, made in opium, fur trade and real estate, made the Astor family one of the wealthiest families in the United States. Astor made millions in real estate and in 1897, Astor built the Astoria Hotel, “the world’s most luxurious hotel ,” which adjoined Astor’s cousin, William Waldorf Astor’s, Waldorf Hotel in New York City; the complex became known as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

In 1898 Astor was appointed a lieutenant colonel of a U.S. volunteers battalion he financed in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. During this time he allowed his yacht, the Nourmahal, to be used by the U.S. government.

John Jacob Astor boarded the Titanic as a first class passenger with his wife, Madeleine Astor, his valet Victor Robbins, his wife’s maid Rosalie Bidois, nurse Caroline Endres and pet Airedale named Kitty. He was the wealthiest passenger on board the Titanic. At 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912 the Titanic hit an iceberg and began sinking. At first Astor did not believe the ship was in any serious danger, but later Madeleine, her maid and her nurse were rescued into lifeboat 4. He asked if he could join her, mentioning her “delicate condition” (she was five months pregnant at that time), but the officer in charge told him not until all the women and children were away. Astor reportedly stood back and asked for the lifeboat number, then, after lighting a cigarette, he tossed his gloves to Madeleine. Madeleine, her nurse and her maid survived while Colonel Astor and his valet died.

John Jacob Astor’s prominence made his actions while Titanic was sinking legendary. Many exaggerated and unsubstantiated accounts about what Astor did the night Titanic sank appeared in newspapers, books and magazines after the disaster. There was a story that he was the one who opened Titanic‘s kennel and released the dogs; another story has Astor putting a woman’s hat on a boy to make sure he was able to get into a lifeboat. Another legend states that after the ship hit the iceberg, he quipped, “I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous.”

In the year 2000, technological advances have created a worldwide utopia.  In a multi-chapter diversion, Astor details numerous fantastic scientific progressions such as solar power, insect-like boats, commuter air travel, and straightening the Earth’s axial tilt to create constant latitudinal temperatures (n.b., Astor was a patented inventor as well as a real estate tycoon).

The book mainly details the travels of a few intrepid explorers who attach an airplane to a comet and travel to Jupiter and Saturn.  Despite this novel’s 19th-century publication, it reads like any respectable 1950’s pulp novel or a big-budget CGI film of today.  Astor vividly describes other-worldly scenes with a feverish imagination.  He also follows in Verne’s footsteps by arming the “peacfeful” scientists – despite the explorers’ investigative mission, they often resort to fast-paced gunfights to save their lives.

A Journey in Other Worlds sheds new light on the mind of millionare John Jacob Astor IV and is well worth a look.  It’s available from Project Gutenberg at

Just here they came upon a number of huge bones, evidently the remains of some saurian, and many times the size of a grown crocodile. On passing a growth of most luxuriant vegetation, they saw a half-dozen sacklike objects, and drawing nearer noticed that the tops began to swell, and at the same time became lighter in colour. Just as the doctor was about to investigate one of them with his duck-shot, the enormously inflated tops of the creatures collapsed with a loud report, and the entire group soared away. When about to alight, forty yards off, they distended membranous folds in the manner of wings, which checked their descent, and on touching the ground remained where they were without rebound.

Image: Project Gutenberg.

Image: Project Gutenberg.

“We expected to find all kinds of reptiles and birds,” exclaimed the doctor. “But I do not know how we should class those creatures. They seem to have pneumatic feet and legs, for their motion was certainly not produced like that of frogs.”

“I will perforate the air-chamber of one,” said Col. Bearwarden, withdrawing the explosive cartridge from the barrel of his rifle and substituting one with a solid ball. “This will doubtless disable one so that we can examine it.”

Just as they were about to rise, he shot the largest through the neck. All but the wounded one, soared off, while Bearwarden, Ayrault, and Cortlandt approached to examine it more closely.

“You see,” said Cortlandt, “this vertebrate–for that is as definitely as we can yet describe it–forces a great pressure of air into its head and neck, which, by the action of valves, it must allow to rush into its very rudimentary lower extremities, distending them with such violence that the body is shot upward and forward. You may have noticed the tightly inflated portion underneath as they left the ground.”

“As it will be unable to spring for some time,” said Bearwarden, “we might as well save it the disappointment of trying,” and, snapping the used shell from his rifle, he fired an explosive ball into the reptile, whereupon about half the body disappeared, while a sickening odour arose.

Posted by: Tom Owen | June 30, 2009

The Virginian (1902) – Owen Wister, SPS 1878

The Virginian, a Horseman of the Plains (adapted from Wikipedia)

The Virginian, both the character and the book, are considered to be first of their kind. The character is seen as the first real cowboy character that has set the standard for the cowboy character stereotype. The book is seen as one of the first great western novels about cowboys.

Biographial Notes
Owen Wister (July 14, 1860 – July 21, 1938) was an American writer and “Father” of western fiction.

Image: Library of Congress.

Image: Library of Congress.

Owen Wister was born on July 14, 1860, in Germantown, a neighborhood within the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He briefly attended schools in Switzerland and Britain, and later studied at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was a classmate of Theodore Roosevelt, an editor of the Harvard Lampoon and a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon (Alpha chapter). Wister graduated from Harvard in 1882.

At first he aspired to a career in music, and spent two years studying at a Paris conservatory. Thereafter, he worked briefly in a bank in New York before studying law, having graduated from the Harvard Law School in 1888. Following this, he practiced with a Philadelphia firm, but was never truly interested in that career. He was interested in politics, however, and was a staunch Theodore Roosevelt backer. In the 1930s, he opposed Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Wister had spent several summers out in the American West, making his first trip to Wyoming in 1885. Like his friend Teddy Roosevelt, Wister was fascinated with the culture, lore and terrain of the region. On an 1893 visit to Yellowstone, Wister met the western artist Frederic Remington; who remained a lifelong friend. When he started writing, he naturally inclined towards fiction set on the western frontier. Wister’s most famous work remains the 1902 novel The Virginian, the loosely constructed story of a cowboy who is a natural aristocrat, set against a highly mythologized version of the Johnson County War and taking the side of the large land owners. This is widely regarded as being the first cowboy novel and was reprinted fourteen times in eight months. The book is dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt.

Just within the western boundary of the Grand Teton National Park, there is a 11,490-foot mountain named Mount Wister named for Owen Wister. There are five films inspired by The Virginian and one television series.


Ostensibly a love story, the novel really revolves around a highly mythologized version of the Johnson County War in 1890s Wyoming. The real Johnson County War was a dispute between large ranchers and smaller operators over cattle theft. The novel takes the side of the large ranchers, and depicts the lynchings as frontier justice, meted out by the protagonist, who is a member of a natural aristocracy among men; this theme of the wilderness as a magnifying glass for humans’ inherent qualities is also found in other fiction of the period, such as Tarzan of the Apes.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

In a central episode, the protagonist participates in the lynching of an admitted cattle thief, who had been his close friend. The lynching is represented as a necessary response to the government’s corruption and lack of action, but the protagonist feels it to be a horrible duty. He is especially stricken by the bravery with which the thief faces his fate, and the heavy burden it places on his heart forms the emotional core of the story. Of course as previously mentioned The Virginian is a love story. In this book the story of the romance between the Virginian and the young eastern school teacher Miss Molly Wood is cleverly woven into the main plot.

Therefore Trampas spoke. “Your bet, you son-of-a–.”
The Virginian’s pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice that sounded almost like a caress, but drawling a very little more than usual, so that there was almost a space between each word, he issued his orders to the man Trampas: “When you call me that, SMILE.” And he looked at Trampas across the table.
Yes, the voice was gentle. But in my ears it seemed as if somewhere the bell of death was ringing; and silence, …

Available for free from Project Gutenberg at:

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