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How the West Was Written: Frontier Fiction, 1880-1906 (Volume 1) Paperback – April 20, 2014
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Though the stories are mostly viewed through the lens of a 21st-century mindset, the authors' works are mainly allowed to speak for themselves—the aim is not so much detailed analysis of what each one has to say as it is to present a broad picture of what the writers dealing with the West at this time were putting forth. And what a variety it is. The books range from the most old-fashioned of Victorian melodramas to vehicles for social ideologies of vary degrees of radicality; their tone ranges from comedic to dead serious; their writing styles are sometimes florid, sometimes crisp. For those interested in history, attention is paid to the details of frontier life woven through the stories. A unifying theme of the book is the way that each author depicts the West itself, their attitude towards it and the role that it plays in the plot and in the lives of their characters.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and I'm looking forward to the companion volume dealing with Western fiction through 1915.
The West was a much more complicated society than is generally understood, and Scheer makes it plain cowboys and gunmen were just a small slice of western culture.
How the West was Written is particularly valuable because most of us have never read these books.
An altogether fascinating look at a special time and place.
Dr. Scheer organizes the book by themes that change with the times. For example Chapter 1 (Social Activism and Romance) cites four women writers between 1883 - 1888. chapter 3 (Cowboys, Railroads, and Miners) studies writers such as Owen Wister and William De Vere during the years 1896 and 1897. As the times change, so do the themes.
To my knowledge, not being an academic, there is nothing like this book available for readers writers of the West to learn from and enjoy. The Western, as Dr. Scheer proves, is a very old genre, as American and diverse as jazz.
I'm eagerly awaiting the second volume.
(Full disclosure: Dr. Scheer and I have known each other on Facebook for several years, and we met in 2011 at a joint conference of the Western Literature Association and the Montana Festival of the Book. He has favorably reviewed my novels on his blog. Nonetheless, this review is my honest opinion of How the West Was Written.)