American Aristocrat Owen Wister

Owen WisterOn this day in 1860, American aristocrat Owen Wister was born. He was born on the “storied Belfield estate in Germantown.” His father was a wealthy physician and his mother was the daughter of the famous actor Fanny Kemble. When he wasn’t attending school in Switzerland and England, he would hire poor people to lie in puddles so he never got his shoes wet—shoes made of the skin of poor immigrant children. Okay, that wasn’t actually true. But he was a friend of Theodore Roosevelt. Of course, being rich, once the Great Depression hit, Wister was totally against the policies of Roesevelt’s cousin, who was President at that time. If you learn one thing from reading me it should be this: bad economic times are great if you had a lot of money. Wister had a lot of money.

So why on this day is the birthday post about just another American aristocrat? Well, partly is is because last year I did Woody Guthrie. And I could have done Ingmar Bergman, but I just don’t feel up to it. It may be a cliche, but he was a great filmmaker, and he deserves a lot of attention. And I think I have a cold. A cold! And it is supposed to be 99° today! My plan is to go back to bed as soon as I’m done with this. Anyway, so we were talking about American aristocrat Owen Wister and how when times got hard for the American people, he was angry that FDR tried to do anything to ameliorate the suffering of millions of Americans.

But the main reason that I’m writing about Owen Wister is because he is considered the father of the Western. He got that name for writing The Virginian in 1902. It’s an episodic novel with pretty much what we have come to expect. The Virginian character is a kind of natural aristocrat, who of course, ends up as an actual aristocrat by the end of the novel. He falls in love and marries a school teacher, Molly Stark Wood. (Wister’s wife’s nickname was Molly.) And generally, he fights for life, liberty, and the American way against the Tramps who are just evil because, well, they aren’t natural aristocrats.

Interestingly, Wister never wrote another western. He did work with diabetic playwright Kirke La Shelle to bring it to the stage. And it has been made into at least six movies. You’ve got to give it to the man though, according to Wikipedia, the book was reprinted fourteen times in eight months. In addition to not writing another western novel, he didn’t much write anything. There was a ten year period where he was writing novels. And had he been struggling financially, he probably would have pumped out other rambling novels about life in Wyoming with noble men and pretty and pure school teachers. But who needs to do that when you can be sipping brandy and soda at The Philadelphia Club?

Wister died in 1938 at the age of 78. He was tragically killed when the four servants carrying him, dropped from exhaustion. I mean, he was tragically crushed to death when a wall made of money collapsed on him. I mean, he died of starvation after his food tester was tragically killed moonlighting as a puddle-coverer for a rich fat man. The truth is, I don’t know how he died. But he was 78. And that’s one good thing you can say about American aristocrats: they eventually die.

Happy birthday American aristocrat Owen Wister, pioneer of the most tedious of American genre fiction!

10 thoughts on “American Aristocrat Owen Wister

  1. @tucsonbarbara – I thought you might be angry. Usually, I don’t normally use the birthday posts to rant against people. But I have my moods…

  2. @tucsonbarbara – Well, it just seemed to me that: (1) Wister probably wasn’t nearly as bad a man as I described him (although I’ve been watching [i]Game of Thrones[/i] this evening, so my standards may have dropped); and (2) anyone who would know that detail about Wister probably read a biography and thus likes him. But that’s really not a reasonable assumption. I’ve been reading tons of books about Reagan for a project, and I’m not too keen on him. Not that he didn’t have his charms. Just like Owen Wister, I assume. ;-)

  3. While I’ve never read a biography of Owen Wister, I watched the TV version of The Virginian when I was a kid. My father told me a little about the author, and I’ve inherited my dad’s ability to retain (and impart) a lot of trivia. :-)

    I’m a huge fan of Game of Thrones, so I’d recommend you continue watching. It gets better. A lot better, IMHO.

  4. @tucsonbarbara – Yes, well, it seems I am trapped. I’m on the third disc now. Some of the characters like the incestuous queen and her brother have been humanized a bit. I think I have a man-crush on Sean Bean’s character. His youngest daughter makes me want to have children. Jon Snow and Sam at the wall have become really interesting. And, of course, Peter Dinklage’s character is fantastic in his blunt humanity. I really don’t want to, but I will probably finish the first season tonight rather than get actual pressing work done!

  5. @tucsonbarbara – I’m not sure what was going on. Three comments went through that were pretty much identical. Always technical problems.

    The first season was good, but the epic nature of the story is a bit of a problem because I’m not that interested in some of it. My favorite character is now Samwell Tarly. It will be interesting to see what Daenerys manages to do without her husband. I hate the new king and I look back fondly to the first episode where Tyrion slapped him repeatedly.

    It was also really nice to see more great character actors like Peter Vaughan, Donald Sumpter, and Charles Dance (who maybe is more of a star than a character actor). I love seeing these people play parts that are so different from what I’ve seen before. Like Sumpter as the arrogant Claudius in [i]Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead[/i] playing a kindly and patient tutor here.

    I’ve ordered the rest, but I don’t know if I’m up to it. It’s been exhausting. And now it looks like everyone is going to be at war with everyone else and the spirits in the north. Plus Sean Bean is gone, which I predicted, but is still sad. And I’d like to think that Syrio Forel isn’t dead. But he probably is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *