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The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (Penguin Classics) Paperback – August 1, 1988

ISBN-13: 978-0140390650 ISBN-10: 0140390650 Edition: Open market ed

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Open market ed edition (August 1, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140390650
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140390650
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,367,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


An excellent edition. / Rhys Williams, Warwick University --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

John Seelye is a graduate research professor of American literature at the University of Florida. He is the author of The True Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain at the Movies, Prophetic Waters: The River in Early American Literature, Beautiful Machine: Rivers and the Early Republic, Memory's Nation: The Place of Plymouth Rock, and War Games: Richard Harding Davis and the New Imperialism. He is also the consulting editor for Penguin Classics in American literature.

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Customer Reviews

Really a great book,good story line, strong characters.
Wanda Eubanks
(I always find great clarification from older books, books written before TV, before Computers, and even before Radio.
Bruce Bain
This is a book for any reader of Western literature, fiction or nonfiction.
Ronald Scheer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on October 16, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
For anyone fascinated by how the myth of the Western hero came into being, this is the book to read. Published in 1902, it became hugely popular for decades and inspired movies (a version with Gary Cooper in 1929) and a long-running TV series (1962-1971). A modern reader could easily guess the storyline without reading a synopsis - the classic elements are all there: tall, dark, handsome cowboy hero; pretty schoolmarm from back East; the villain who must finally face justice at the end of a gun.

Few historical novels are dedicated to American presidents, however, and another whole dimension of the novel opens up with the name appearing on the dedication page -- Theodore Roosevelt, a college friend of the author's. What Wister does, besides telling a story of adventure and romance, is portray a particular kind of heroic figure, a natural man whose integrity is untainted by the corrupt (though civilized) values of the East.

The book is a deliberate and often worshipful character study for the age of Teddy Roosevelt-style masculinity. The young Virginian charms us (and the narrator) with his courage and modesty and his thoughtful attempts to understand a world in which some men (even good ones) act dishonorably and make cowardly choices. Stoic and cool on the surface, the currents of sentiment run deep in this man. So does the will to self-improvement, as he reads Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott.

This book connects with so much of American myth over the last 100 years that you could easily write another book about it. Or you can simply enjoy it for what it is, a historical romance so well conceived, in spite of its sometimes dated views, that you keep on reading through each episode of the story, glad that Wister was in no hurry to cut to the chase.
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Bain on April 30, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback

VIRGINIAN -by Owen Wister ( first reviewed 30 April 2006)

Though "The Virginian" has a standing as a Western novel, it is philosophically rich, and Owen Wister used this novel to articulate certain fundamental truths. (I always find great clarification from older books, books written before TV, before Computers, and even before Radio. In these, one can still find clarification of values, that is not easily found in modern literature, when those who write books don't know the difference between "Come!" and "Go sic'em!" ) Wister's book is not just a "shoot'em-up". The reader needs to be aware of the depth of the philosophical arguments offered by his characters

the definition of a "gentleman" (in Chapter Two)

the conflict between GOOD (the Virginian) & EVIL (Trampas, the cowhand turned rustler and worse, corrupter of men, resulting in their destruction

the definition of "love" ; NOT the romantic love between the school teacher and the cowboy. Rather, it was the love the Virginian showed to his fellow cowhands, who were vulnerable to manipulation and deceit by crooked men, and in trying to shepherd souls along the lines of the soul's deepest strengths. (Example: the Judge's hired hand who loved horses).

the definition of "spirituality"; Wister draws a stark contrast between the traveling preacher, who wears his religious "act" like a cheap black suit and poorly conceals his contempt of common men in his arrogance and superiority complex.
Moreover, Chapter Two demonstrates the essential requirement of HUMILITY that the Virginian manifests (a character trait utterly lacking in the minister).
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By R. D. Allison ( on June 9, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is the classic story by Wister (1860-1938) of the ranch foreman, known only as the Virginian, his courtship of Molly Starkwood, the "schoolmarm" from Vermont, and his conflicts with Trampas. In 1977, the Western Writers of America voted this novel as the top western novel of all time. It probably started the whole genre (even if one counts the pulp fiction popular in the late 19th century). Historians have always pointed out that there never really was a "Code of the West." This was just something thought up by writers, journalists, and film makers. The West was made up of both good and bad men, just as today. But, in my opinion, this book challenges that concept. Wister based his characters on real people he interacted with in the West a few years earlier. There really were men like the Virginian. There really were people who, unknowingly, followed a Code (just as there are today).
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 7, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Like another reviewer, I picked up my copy at a second-hand bookstall before going on holiday. I do this so that I can jettison the book when read without feeling I've wasted money. I recognised the title as that of a TV show, and was expecting an easy-read non-engaging story. How wrong I was. The story is hard to follow and demands concentration. After reading it "to see what happened in the end" I started at the beginning again to relish the writing and enjoy the situations. The story is about the Virginian, but the person who makes the longest journey is Molly. The man's rival is not another man, but another culture. Molly is in love with the man, but he is a cowboy. Although he is the most wonderful, handsome, wise man she has ever met, he wears chaps, carries a rope and a gun, and rides a horse all day. How can she ever possibly take him home to Bennington, where he will be a figure of fun. He will never fit in back home in Vermont. Although Wyoming is in the same country, it might as well be on the moon. Molly cannot bear the thought of the shame that must follow. It gets worse later when she finds out that the man has killed, and intends to kill again. Well, as you all know, love does eventually conquer all, and Molly gives in. The Virginian DOES fit in back East (a bit unbelievably I think) and all is well. Finally, the quality of writing is superb. Every sentence is worthy of that second read to get the best out of it. My favourite quote is "Has any botanist set down what the seed of love is? Has it anywhere been set down in how many ways this seed may be sown? In what various vessels of gossamer it can fall, and live unknown, and bide its time for blooming?" How true. I think the mark of good writing is how often the reader murmers "Yes, that's true." Well, this book is about cross-cultural relationships and marriage, and I think a lot of it strikes pretty true.
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