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West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns (Oxford Paperbacks) Revised ed. Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195082685
ISBN-10: 0195082680
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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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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Revised ed. 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: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #329,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you're looking for a book about westerns filled with sweeping generalizations, mountains of anecdotes and personal musings, and sloppy arguments passed off as academic scholarship, this is definitely the book for you. On the plus side it is extremely accessible.
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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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Format: Paperback
I picked this book up some time ago,July 7,2006 and it sort of got lost amongst my many Westerns.I really didn't know what to expect to find in the book,so I read all the Reviews and was still wondering how I'd like it.
I am a avid reader of Westerns,as well as Old West Movies,Art,and culture.Being a Canadian,and having lived in the US for several years,I am well aware of the great difference in the development of the West in Canada and the U.S. Simply put,in Canada the British Government ,with its Army and Mounted Police controlled our West,and it was developed in a much more orderly manner.Naturally,this orderly development resulted in a much less interesting history.One must remember,Canada was simply a collection of British colonies until it became the country of Canada in 1867,and this was without any form of revolution.Law and Order was entrenched in its development.In the US, development took place under the principles of Life,Liberty,and The Pursuit of Happiness.In Canada the development principles were Peace,Order and Good Government. By the way,these princilpes still apply today.
I really enjoyed reading this book and found that the author pretty well describes Westerns much as I see them.
Being a male, and since males and females often see things in different ways;I can understand why she feels the way she does.I also feel that were a male,with the same academic background would have viewed things differently.I'd be interested in reading such a book written by a male.
The only thing that I felt that was somewhat understated in the book was the huge changes that have taken place in Westerns since the 60's and particularly TV and Movies.When Westerns from the 40's to the 60o's ,and the days of Roy Rogers,Gene Autry,Lone Ranger,Wyatt Earp, High Noon,etc.
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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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