Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Medicine Bow

*Medicine Bow. Wyoming town in and around which the novel is set, during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The setting depicts a romantic scene with spectacular landscapes, including wide rangelands, impressive rock formations and colors, and vast distances. The reader is left with a sense of endless space in a wild, almost hostile environment. The scenery conveys the rugged image of courageous men who choose to be more attached to their horses and six-shooters than to the constraints demanded by marriage and a family.

Owen Wister notes that during the late nineteenth century the town of Medicine Bow consisted of twenty-nine buildings, including a general store, a saloon, a feed stable, two dining houses, a train depot, and a few houses. There were only two ranches that occupied the vast surroundings, one owned by Judge Henry and the other by Sam Balaam. A river running through their land provided a natural boundary of separation.

With the cattle boom of the late 1870’s and early 1880’s, Medicine Bow was quickly changing, as was the West in general. Medicine Bow became the largest cattle shipping point along the Union Pacific Railroad, shipping an average of two hundred head per day. In order to herd the cattle, roads were built. To raise and breed the cattle, fences were erected along the roads and other locations on the once-open range. The cattle business brought many changes to the pristine conditions...

(The entire section is 603 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Wister's unique combination of characters and plot in The Virginian helped to establish the literary convention of the "formula...

(The entire section is 124 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

A social dilemma that haunted early twentieth-century America was a growing tension between East and West. This conflict was rooted in the...

(The entire section is 154 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

When writing The Virginian, Wister was a literary pioneer who sincerely wished to preserve authentic Western experience. As he...

(The entire section is 155 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Virginian appeared at a time when much current literature was being revised for the stage and collectively contributing to the...

(The entire section is 328 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Cobbs, John L. Owen Wister. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Argues that Wister was a good writer whose works deserve more attention. Devotes one chapter to a discussion of The Virginian and provides a good survey of other secondary sources on the book through the early 1980’s.

Etulain, Richard W. Owen Wister. Boise, Idaho: Boise State College, 1973. A brief survey of Wister’s career and a good introduction to his writings. Includes some perceptive comments about The Virginian.

Lambert, Neal. “Owen Wister’s Virginian: The Genesis of a Cultural Hero.” Western American Literature 6 (Summer, 1971): 99-107. A perceptive analysis of the development and meaning of the central figure of Wister’s novel by one of the leading students of his work.

Payne, Darwin. Owen Wister: Chronicler of the West, Gentleman of the East. Dallas, Tex.: Southern Methodist University Press, 1985. The best available biography of Wister, which draws on extensive research in his papers at the Library of Congress and other manuscript collections. Contains an abundance of material on the history of The Virginian and the response it evoked during Wister’s lifetime.

White, G. Edward. The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederic Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1968. Examines the way in which Wister interacted with the West and the historical circumstances that led him to write The Virginian. White deals with Wister’s links with participants in the Johnson County War of April, 1892.