Owen Wister

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Owen Wister
Owen Wister.jpg
Owen Wister, author of the Western novel The Virginian, and friend of 26th U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt
Born (1860-07-14)July 14, 1860
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
Died July 21, 1938(1938-07-21) (aged 78)
Saunderstown, Rhode Island
Occupation Author; Attorney
Spouse(s) Mary "Molly" Channing Wister (married 1898–1913, her death)
Children Six children

Owen Wister (July 14, 1860 – July 21, 1938) was an American writer and historian, considered the "father" of western fiction. He is best remembered for writing The Virginian and a biography of Ulysses S. Grant, a lieutenant general in the American Civil War later elected the 18th President of the United States.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Birthplace of Owen Wister at 5203 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia

Owen Wister was born on July 14, 1860,[1] in Germantown, a neighborhood in the northwestern part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[2] His father, Owen Jones Wister, was a wealthy physician raised at Grumblethorpe in Germantown.[3] He was a distant cousin of Sally Wister. His mother, Sarah Butler Wister, was the daughter of Fanny Kemble, a British actress, and Pierce Mease Butler.[4]

Education[edit]

Wister briefly attended schools in Switzerland and Britain, and later studied at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was a member of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, and a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon (Alpha chapter). Wister was also a member of The Porcellian Club, through which he became lifelong friends with future 26th President Theodore Roosevelt. As a senior Wister wrote the Hasty Pudding's then most successful show, Dido and Aeneas, whose proceeds aided in the construction of their theater. Wister graduated from Harvard in 1882.

At first he aspired to a career in music and spent two years studying at a Paris conservatory. Thereafter, he worked briefly in a bank in New York before studying law; he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1888. Following this, he practiced with a Philadelphia firm but was never truly interested in that career. He was interested in politics, however, and was a staunch supporter of U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt.

In the 1930s, Wister opposed President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal.

Writing career[edit]

Illustration in The Virginian

Wister began his literary work in 1882, publishing The New Swiss Family Robinson, a parody of the 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson. It was so well received that Mark Twain wrote a letter to Wister, personally praising it.[5][6]

Wister had spent several summers in the American West, making his first trip to the Territory of Wyoming in 1885, planning to shoot big game, fish trout, meet the Indians, and spend nights in the wild. Like his friend Teddy Roosevelt, Wister was fascinated with the culture, lore and terrain of the region. He was "...struck with wonder and delight, had the eye to see and the talent to portray the life unfolding in America. After six journeys [into the dying 'wild west'] for pleasure, he gave up the profession of law...",[citation needed] and became the writer he is better known as. On an 1893 visit to Yellowstone National Park, Wister met the western artist Frederic Remington, who remained a lifelong friend.

When he started writing, Wister naturally inclined towards fiction set on the western frontier. His most famous work remains the 1902 novel The Virginian, a complex mixture of persons, places and events dramatized from experience, word of mouth, and his own imagination – ultimately creating the archetypal cowboy, who is a natural aristocrat, set against a highly mythologized version of the Johnson County War, and taking the side of the large landowners. This is widely regarded as being the first cowboy novel and was reprinted fourteen times in eight months. It stands as one of the top 50 best-selling works of fiction and is considered by Hollywood experts to be the basis for the modern fictional cowboy portrayed in literature, film and television.[citation needed]

In 1904 Wister collaborated with Kirke La Shelle on a successful stage adaptation of The Virginian that featured Dustin Farnum in the title role.[7] Farnum reprised the role ten years later in Cecil B. DeMille's film adaptation of the play.[8]

Wister was a member of several literary societies, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University.[9]

Personal life[edit]

In 1898, Wister married Mary Channing, his cousin.[10] The couple had six children. Channing died during childbirth in 1913.[11] Their daughter, Marina Wister, married artist Andrew Dasburg in 1933.[12]

Death[edit]

Grave of Owen Wister, Laurel Hill Cemetery

In 1938, Wister died at his home in Saunderstown, Rhode Island. He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Legacy[edit]

Since 1978, University of Wyoming Student Publications has published the literary and arts magazine Owen Wister Review. The magazine was published bi-annually until 1996 and became an annual publication in the spring of 1997.[citation needed]

Just within the western boundary of the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, there is an 11,490-foot mountain named Mount Wister, named for Owen Wister.[13]

Near a house that Wister built near La Mesa, California, but never occupied due to his wife's death, is a street called Wister Drive. In the same neighborhood are Virginian Lane and Molly Woods Avenue (named for a character in The Virginian). All of those streets were named by Wister himself.[14][15]

Bibliography[edit]

Novels[edit]

Non-fiction[edit]

Story collections[edit]

  • Red Men and White (1895) (aka Salvation Gap and Other Western Classics)
  • The Jimmyjohn Boss and Other Stories (1900)
  • Members of the Family (1911) (Illus. H. T. Dunn)
  • Safe in the Arms of Croesus (1927)
  • When West Was West (1928)
  • The West of Owen Wister: Selected Short Stories (1972)

Short stories[edit]

Essays[edit]

Poetry[edit]

  • "The Pale Cast of Thought" (1890)
  • "From Beyond the Sea" (1890)
  • "Autumn on Wind River" (1897)
  • "In Memoriam" (1902)
  • Done In The Open (1902) (Illus. by Frederic Remington)
  • "Serenade" (1910)
  • Indispensable Information for Infants: Or Easy Entrance to Education (1921)

Operas[edit]

  • Dido and Aeneas (1892)
  • Kenilworth (unpublished)
  • Listen to Binks (unpublished)
  • Montezuma (unpublished)
  • Villon (unpublished)
  • Watch Your Thirst: A Dry Opera in Three Acts (1923)

Plays[edit]

  • The Dragon of Wantley (unpublished)
  • The Honeymoonshiners (published in the story collection Safe in the Arms of Croesus)
  • Lin McLean (unpublished)
  • Slaves of the Ring (unpublished)
  • That Brings Luck (unpublished)
  • The Virginian (unpublished)

Works inspired by The Virginian[edit]

Many movie industry historians will agree that most, if not all, westerns can be claimed to contain influences from The Virginian. It is nearly universally accepted that the "Hollywood cowboy" was, and still is, based on this book.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 44. ISBN 0-86576-008-X
  2. ^ "Owen Wister". Pabook.libraries.psu.edu. Archived from the original on 2009-08-02. Retrieved 2016-05-06. 
  3. ^ "Welcome to the La Salle Local History Web Page". Lasalle.edu. October 1, 1994. Archived from the original on October 26, 2015. Retrieved May 6, 2016. 
  4. ^ "Owen Wister: Brief Life of a Mythmaker," Harvard Magazine, 2002. Archived April 15, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. by Castle Freeman, Jr.
  5. ^ Wister-Stokes, Fanny (1958). "Preface". Owen Wister Out West; His Journals and Letters (1st ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. XI. No ISBN. Library Congress #: 58-9609 
  6. ^ Wister, Owen. Wister, Fanny, ed. "Owen Wister Out West His Journals and Letters". One (1st). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Preface. Lib of Congress # 58-9609 
  7. ^ The Virginian, Internet Broadway Database Retrieved June 20, 2014
  8. ^ The Virginian (1914), Internet Movie Database Retrieved June 20, 2014
  9. ^  Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Wister, Owen". Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P.F. Collier & Son Company. 
  10. ^ "Welcome to the La Salle Local History Web Page". Lasalle.edu. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved May 6, 2016. 
  11. ^ "Obituary" (PDF). The New York Times. August 25, 1913. p. 5. 
  12. ^ Coke, Van Deren (1979). Andrew Dasburg. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. p. 94. ISBN 0826305164. 
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 17, 2008. Retrieved February 18, 2008. 
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 14, 2013. Retrieved July 14, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 6, 2007. Retrieved February 18, 2008. 
  16. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Swiss Family Robinson, The". Encyclopedia Americana. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Cobbs, J. L. (1984). Owen Wister. Boston: Twayne. 
  • Payne, D. (1985). Owen Wister: Chronicler of the West, Gentleman of the East. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press. 

External links[edit]