A leading figure in the debate over the literary canon, Jane Tompkins was one of the first to point to the ongoing relevance of popular women's fiction in the 19th century, long overlooked or scorned by literary critics. Now, in West of Everything, Tompkins shows how popular novels and films of the American west have shaped the emotional lives of people in our time. Into this world full of violence and manly courage, the world of John Wayne and Louis L'Amour, Tompkins takes her readers, letting them feel what the hero feels, endure what he endures. Writing with sympathy, insight, and respect, she probes the main elements of the
Western—its preoccupation with death, its barren landscapes, galloping horses, hard-bitten men and marginalized women—revealing the view of reality and code of behavior these features contain. She considers the Western hero's attraction to pain, his fear of women and language, his desire to dominate the environment—and to merge with it. In fact, Tompkins argues, for better or worse Westerns have taught us all—men especially—how to behave. It was as a reaction against popular women's novels and women's invasion of the public sphere that Westerns originated, Tompkins maintains. With Westerns, men were reclaiming cultural territory, countering the inwardness,
spirituality, and domesticity of the sentimental writers, with a rough and tumble, secular, man-centered world. Tompkins brings these insights to bear in considering film classics such as Red River and Lonely Are the Brave, and novels such as Louis L'Amour's Last of the Breed and Owen Wister's The Virginian. In one of the most moving chapters (chosen for Best American Essays of 1991), Tompkins shows how the life of Buffalo Bill Cody, killer of Native Americans and charismatic star of the Wild West show, evokes the contradictory feelings which the Western typically elicits—horror and fascination with violence, but also love and respect for the romantic ideal of the cowboy.
Whether interpreting a photograph of John Wayne of meditating on the slaughter of cattle, Jane Tompkins writes with humor, compassion, and a provocative intellect. Her book will appeal to many Americans who read or watch Westerns, and to all those interested in a serious approach to popular culture.
Jane Tompkins, Professor of English, Duke University
Jane Tompkins is Professor of English at Duke University. She is author of Sensational Designs and the editor of Reader Response Criticism.
"The feminist perspective of West of Everything makes it invaluable to the ongoing critical discourse on Westerns." - The San Francisco Chronicle
"Jane Tompkins knows her Western through and through; she handles details, events and scenes from novels and movies with skill and surety....She brings spirit, energy, freshness and originality to a field of study that has long been buried many feet deep in cliches." - Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Boston Sunday Globe
"A passionate and generous book." - Newsday
"Interesting and thought-provoking." - Library Journal
"In explaining how she overcame her prejudices against the Western Tompkins illuminates the genre as few others ever have." - Hubert I. Cohen, University of Michigan
"A daring and confrontational literary essay meant to rattle the peace of mind of just about every cowboy on the face of the earth....Throughout her book [Tompkins] evidences a charm, honesty, and sense of intellectual adventure that would make her a happy pardner on a long ride....And why do I love Miz Tompkins so much for bush-whacking the myth of the West inside me? Because she's right." - John Calvin Batchelor, Washington Post Book World
"Anyone who cares about American popular culture could profit from reading this masterpiece." - Booklist
"We've long recognized that the western is a basic myth of masculinity. Thus, it's not surprising that a woman scholar might have, if not the last word, at least a good deal to say about the genre. What's even more striking is that Jane Tompkins in West of Everything not only develops an insightful feminist critique of the western as macho mythos, but also has some brilliant observations to make about the genre's compelling artistic and cultural force. This is not simply gender criticism, but cultural and aesthetic analysis at its most fascinating." - John G. Cawelti, University of Kentucky
"Treating both Western novels and Western movies, Jane Tompkins argues that there is nothing trivial about the desires they arouse or the violence they persuade us to applaud. By the end of her study, she forces us to confront that righteous ecstasy through which, for one brief moment, we all share in the murderous discharge of tension which traditionally concludes the Western. It is a chilling and provocative Epilogue to a book that movingly demonstrates why this famous feminist critic has always found herself both attracted to and repelled by the power of cowboy heroes. In short, a bracing and sobering analysis." - Annette Kolodny, author of The Lay of the Land and The Land
"[A] captivating, witty study....A great read. One comes away hard-pressed to imagine any writer topping Tompkin's feat of integrating the western and the way Americans think." - Denver Post
"In a style that is at once respectful and cutting, Prof. Tompkins, a leading voice for a more inclusive American literary canon, shows how the fictional world of the L'Amour and Wister novel, of films like Red River and Lonely Are the Brave, has shaped the emotional lives of modern times....Her book is an energetic tour through the elements of the western....As much fun as an old John Wayne rerun." - The Fayetteville-Observer Times
"[Tompkins] has a feel for the texture of novels and movies rare even in the best critics of the genre." - Western American Literature
"Interesting and valuable insights in the kind of book we've needed for some time." - E.N. Feltskog, University of Wisconsin
"I hope this book will give students a good understanding of the importance of Western fiction to "Americans" understanding of the West. The only historical time period in U.S. that Americans (and others) think they know based solely on books, TV, and movies." - Jacqueline Barnhart, CSU, Chico
"A provocative, original reading of too-often-overlooked texts." - Thomas Lyon, Utah State University
"Interesting." - A.L. Socus, University of Notre Dame
"Not only is the book interesting and theoretically informed, but the author makes her own position clear" - she shows you the journey that brought her to where she was at the moment of writing this book. This is so rare in academic writing, where authors often seem intent on erasing themselves completely.
"Excellent literary counterpoint to the current scholarly debate about the new western history." - Michael Welsh, University of Northern Colorado
"I enjoyed this book as a possible supplementary text for the westward theme in American Literature." - Jane Hawkins, Jefferson State College
"[Tompkins's] thought-provoking book is a good place to begin re-examining the lessons that the western can teach as we approach the wenty-first century." - The Journal of Arizona History
"Jane Tompkins...takes a new look at the novels and films of the American West and in so doing discovers intriguing ways of accounting for the genre's power in the American imagination...West of Everything is an important and highly readable contribution to our understanding of the crucial place the Western holds in American culture." - Michael Anderegg, North Dakota History
"'West of Everything' is an important study of the relationship between the written word and the celluloid version of the word." - Gary Kerley, Southern Humanities Review