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West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns (Oxford Paperbacks) Paperback – April 29, 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0195082685 ISBN-10: 0195082680 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (April 29, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195082680
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195082685
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.6 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #206,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In her first book, Sensational Designs (Oxford Univ. Pr., 1985), Tompkins argues that serious study of the sentimental novels America produced in the 19th century offers rewards. The next major genre to make an appearance in popular American fiction was the Western. Here, Tompkins examines the Western as it appears in print and on film. She discusses The Virginian , Riders of the Purple Sage , and Louis L'Amour's Last of the Breed at some length and gives a detailed description of her visit to the Buffalo Bill Museum. Other parts of her book range farther afield. Tompkins attempts to forge a Welt anschauung of the Western, which of course leads to an occasional overgeneralization, but her personalized intellectual response to the genre makes this book interesting and thought-provoking.
- John Smothers, Monmouth Cty. Lib., Manalapan, N.J.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

``...the bodies of the silent men of Company C lay wide-eyed to the rain and bare-chested to the wind...dead now in the long grass on a lonely hill, west of everything.'' So ends a paragraph of Louis L`Amour's Hondo, a work that readers of Tompkins's rapt reevaluation of the ecstasies of Western novels, film, and icons will come to revere as much as does Tompkins herself (English/Duke Univ.). The two heroes who loom largest in Tompkins's pantheon are L`Amour and Zane Grey. She quotes brilliantly, offering the reader time and again ``the fully saturated moment,'' showing a Grey who is a poet with as furiously rich and sexually Pan-spirited a sense of landscape as D.H. Lawrence. Tompkins sees the Western as a cannon-burst against sentimental women's fiction in the 19th century, against the dominance of women's culture and the women's invasion of the public sphere between 1880 and 1920. ``It's about men's fear of losing their mastery, and hence their identity, both of which the Western tirelessly reinvents.'' Her larger themes are death, women, the language of men (``yup''), landscape, horses, and cattle--all of which she follows in John Wayne classics, The Searchers and Red River, as well as in Alan Ladd's Shane. But her richest chapters are those on Grey, who ``doesn't know that he is making the rim rock and the sage slopes enact the birth of a new age, but that is what he is doing.'' His is a landscape with blatant but unacknowledged sexual imagery, as in Riders of the Purple Sage: ``She went stone-blind in the fury of a passion that had never before showed its power. Lying upon her bed, sightless, voiceless, she was a writhing, living flame.'' Some academic clinkers, but mainly right down to sod. (Ten halftones--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

And it's all easy, non-didactic reading.
Ronald Haak
It is the best book about the West I have read since Ariel Dorfman's great essay on The Lone Ranger.
toronto
She obviously appreciates Westerns, but she doesn't seem to really get them.
RETIRED FOR GOOD

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By toronto on August 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a great book, great criticism, beautifully written (charged with the same energy as her favourite writers). I read it non-stop. I would give it 6 stars if I could (one to go on her chest where the deputy sheriff's badge would go.).

I confess I don't completely agree with aspects of the gender argument (that the western is essentially an anti-Victorian female activist genre), but I don't care. It is the best book about the West I have read since Ariel Dorfman's great essay on The Lone Ranger.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Haak on November 7, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of those rare books that combines sharp analysis, penetrating observations and absolutely delightful armchair reading, with plenty of specific examples from old fashioned westerns to reveal the assumptions they all share. The book is organized around themes (see the Table of Contents in the Amazon "Look Inside This Book" feature for these). Surprising BUT TRUE observations abound: the men we see in westerns have a low opinion of women, of embroidered language, of the graces of parlours, dancing --- in short, of civilization itself --- and she presents westerns as a counterreaction to the spread of industrialization, regimentation and the rise of petticoats and female gentility all over America. But the main focus is on the perennial nature of the cowboy, his narrow personality, his love of pain and hardship, his desperate need to strip away the fripperies of social intercourse and get down to the basics of courage and honour. Well chosen examples abound, taken from movies we've all enjoyed.

Lots of constant features have a new, clearer defintion for us. She calls to our attention the very few buildings needed to characterize every single western town we've ever seen on the screen: the hotel, the livery stable, saloon, sherrif's office, church, barber shop, general store --- AND THAT'S THE LOT! These are the only town buildings identified in 95% of westerns. The remainder of the buildings remain on view but expendable. And she lists the unexamined assumptions basic to our enjoyment of westerns, i.e., that somehow we've come to assume it's normal for men to gun each other down in the dusty streets of desert towns, with excited townspeople holding their breath and eager to run out and jabber about it all in a great surge of relief and approval.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful By K. Kehler on March 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
Tompkins made her name as a professional literary critic, principally (but not only) for her book on Reader-response criticism, which somewhat counter-intuitively holds that texts' meanings are dependent on readers' values and assumptions, etc. I mention this because she brings her assumptions to bear on a genre (Westerns) that she fundamentally doesn't understand ... or want to understand. Tompkins' book will tell you plenty about what sophisticated literary theorists will do with texts (how to situate them in cultural traditions and how to discuss the relationship between cultural artifacts), but for a truly enlightening discussion of Westerns, you should turn to Peter A. French's magnificent treatment: Cowboy Metaphysics, Ethics and Death in Westerns. French's book has all the merits that Tompkins book should (also) have had. It is lucid, argumentative, illuminating and thoughfully respectful of the details of the Westerns he discusses.
For a fascinating read turn to French instead. Where else can you get a discussion of Westerns that illuminates this genre by way of Aristotle, Nietzsche, Homer, Melville, Kant and Aeschylus?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While Tompkins draws attention to some very interesting tropes in the Western genre, she nevertheless makes broad, unfounded statements concerning men as a whole (she dedicates a large section of her chapter on language to how men oppress women literally by not doing anything) and her desire to show how men have persecuted women pervades every page of her text, and it is highlighted in her tenuous connections between tropes concerning sex and relationships especially.

This pales in comparison, however, to her comparison of the cattle industry to the Holocaust, which was one of the most insultingly blatant and inexcusable anti-Semitic statements I have ever read. Comparing stockyards to Auschwitz is not only demonizing of hard-working men and women earning a living providing food for the masses, it makes light of one of the greatest tragedies in human history and it dehumanizes the European Jews who were sacrificed on the alter of human ignorance and brutality.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By gene on July 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jane Tomkins gives a female view on western films in this book. It is very easy to read, and full of information
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Amy Hanson on October 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is an amazing book. Jane Tompkins looks at the different symbols in westerns -- cattle, horses, food, work -- and discusses what they *mean*. She also discusses the evolution of the genre -- where it came from, and what it was a reaction to, and why the different symbols work together so well. And all the while, her writing style is engaging and interesting and pulls you along as you nod and say "Oh! Right!" You don't have to be a student of writing to enjoy this book. The information translates immediately to male-female communication, and to interactions you may have with colleagues. You'll find yourself gutting through some project and saying in a John Wayne accent "well, it's the cowboy way, ain't it?"
Highly enjoyable. An amazing piece of work.
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