Owen Wister Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Owen Wister, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 14, 1860, began his career with a serious interest in music and only later became interested in writing. After being educated in private schools in the United States and abroad, he attended Harvard University, where he was graduated with highest honors in music in 1882. He then spent two years abroad, studying composition in Paris until ill health forced his return to the United States. Following a period as a bank employee in New York City, he suffered a nervous breakdown and traveled to Wyoming to recuperate in the healthful atmosphere of a Western cattle ranch. He associated with the large cattle barons who were then engaged in a struggle with smaller ranchers that culminated in the Johnson County Range War of 1892. What Wister saw and heard formed the background for his novel The Virginian. From 1885 to 1888 he attended the Harvard Law School. After graduation he was admitted to the bar and practiced law in Philadelphia.

His growing fondness for the West led Wister to make other trips to Wyoming during the early 1890’s, and he incorporated incidents and experiences into short stories that won immediate recognition. Two short stories based on Western life, “Hank’s Woman” (1891) and “How Lin McLean Went West” (1891), published in Harper’s Magazine, were his first literary works to attract a wide audience. Such volumes as Red Men and White and The...

(The entire section is 425 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cobbs, John L. Owen Wister. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Makes a strong case for Wister’s importance as a writer and contains an informative survey of his work.

Estleman, Loren D. The Wister Trace: Classic Novels of the American Frontier. New York: Jameson Books, 1987. Discusses frontier or Western fiction as a genre.

Etulain, Richard W. Owen Wister. Boise, Idaho: Boise State College, 1973. Offers a good, brief analysis of Wister’s career as a western writer.

Payne, Darwin. Owen Wister: Chronicler of the West, Gentleman of the East. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1985. A good biography of Wister, which draws on the large collection of Wister’s papers at the Library of Congress.

White, G. Edward. The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederic Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister. 1968. Reprint. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989. Excellent on Wister’s days in the West and the influence of that experience on The Virginian and his other writings about the region.