Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book Report: The Virginian

My fourth book of 2010 was The Virginian, by Owen Wister (free ebook!). Self proclaimed "The Most Famous Western Novel Ever Written." The copy I had was published in 1970 but it was originally published in 1902. Accordingly the dialogue is a bit hard to follow. However this really is an excellent book. Wikipedia tells me that "the character is seen as the first real cowboy character that has set the standard for the cowboy character stereotype. The book is seen as one of the first great western novels about cowboys."

An instructive lesson was to do a cursory look at the old US history book (aka Wikipedia) to find out what was going on in the country. We had exited the gilded age and in the early 1890's suffered through a long depression (worst in the country at that time). Our president (McKinley) had just been assassinated and Teddy Roosevelt (the author's friend) had just been sworn in. A tumultuous time to say the least.

With that in mind I thought there were a number of interesting quotes that really resonated with both my personal beliefs and current events:

I have thought that matter of dress and speech should not carry with them so much distrust in our democracy. (p. 25)

I know a man that mostly wins at cyards. I know a man that mostly loses. He says it is his luck. All right. Call it his luck. I know a man that works hard and he's gettin' rich, and I know another that works hard and is gettin' poor. He says it is his luck. All right. Call it his luck. I looked around and I see folks movin' up or movin' down, winners or losers everywhere. All luck, of course. But since folks can be born that different in their luck, where's your equality? No, seh! call your failure luck, or call it laziness, wander around the words, prospect all yu' mind to, and yu'll come out the same old trail of inequaility." He paused for a moment and look at her. "Some holds four aces," he went on, "and some holds nothin', and some poor fello' gets the aces and no show to play 'em; but a man has got to prove himself my equal before I'll believe him." (p. 103)

Now cyards are only one o' the manifestations of poker in this hyeh world. One o' the shapes yu' fool with it in when the day's work is oveh. If a man is built like that Prince boy was built (and it's away down deep beyond brains), he'll play winnin' poker with whatever hand he's holdin' when the trouble begins. Maybe it will be a mean, triflin' army, or an empty six-shoter, or a lame hawss, or maybe just nothin' but his natural countenance. Most any old thing will do for a fello' like that Prince boy to play poker with. (p. 111)

"It's might hard to do what your neighbors ain't doin." (p. 137)

"Anthing a man's bread and butter depends on, he's going to care about." (p. 138)

"It is not praying nor preaching that has ever caught me and made me ashamed of myself, but one or two people I have knowed that never said a superior word to me. They thought more o' me than I deserved, and that made me behave better than I naturally wanted to." (p. 152)

"As for salvation, I have got this far; somebody," he swept an arm at the sunset and the mountains, "must have made all that, I know. But I know one more thing I would tell Him to His face: if I can't do nothing long enough and good enough to earn eternal happiness, I can't do nothing long enough and bad enough to be damned. I reckon He plays a square game with us if He plays at all, and I ain't bothering my haid about other worlds." (p. 157)

The latter half of the book deals more with how the plot unravels so unfortunately no more quotes that I wrote down. Until next book!

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