Rehearsing and Ridiculing Marriage in The Virginian and Other Adventure Tales

  • Chris Packard


At the end of Owen Wister’s cowboy classic The Virginian, after the horseman-hero kills the last of the cattle rustlers in a shoot-out, he finally marries Molly Wood, the feisty schoolmarm, whom he has courted and sassed for so long. He takes her on a spectacular horseback honeymoon near the Gran Tetons. They camp on an island in an idyllic mountain stream, and after much sensuous language suggesting a ritualistic deflowering, husband and wife spend an idle afternoon drowsing on a rock by the stream. Interrupting their nuptial, a “little wild animal” swims by, and emerges from the stream to roll and stretch in the sand. As the mink trots away, the Virginian forms a homoerotic parable out of his visit.


East Coast Moral Sense Black Hair Hunting Trip Ranch Hand 
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    Wister, Owen. The Virginian. New York: Penguin Classics, 1988, pp. 384–385.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Andy Adams, A Texas Matchmaker. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903, p. 281.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Several critics have analyzed the implied homoerotic relationship between Steve and the Virginian: among them Blake Allmendinger (Ten Most Wanted: The New Western Literature, New York: Routledge Press, 1998)Google Scholar
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    John Seelye does a good job of outlining the erotic interlude between the narrator and the Virginian during this camping scene in his introduction to The Virginian (New York: Penguin, 1988, pp. vii–xxxiii).Google Scholar
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    Several good histories of homosexuality in America exist. John D’Emilio and Estelle Freedman’s classic Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, 2nd edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997)Google Scholar
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    For a good discussion of the kind of robust masculinity expected of Harvard graduates during the late nineteenth century, see Kim Townsend’s Manhood at Harvard: William James and Others (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996).Google Scholar

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© Chris Packard 2005

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  • Chris Packard

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