This anthology is not quite the book I expected. Subtitled Short Fiction about Women in the Old West, it leads the reader to expect stories written by women, and a wide selection of them. But besides those writers most easily named (Mary Hallock Foote, Willa Cather, Mari Sandoz, Mary Austin, and Dorothy Johnson), there are almost no women whose fiction would surely qualify them for inclusion here.
To name just a few from the early decades of frontier fiction: Molly Davis, Florence Finch Kelly, Mary Etta Stickney, Frances McElrath, Elizabeth Higgins, Marie Manning, B. M. Bower, Eleanor Gates, Caroline Lockhart, and Kate Boyles.
Instead, the editors find room for one of their own stories (Alter’s “Fool Girl”) and beef up the rest of the book with stories by male writers, which happen to include female characters. These are actually okay, especially Elmer Kelton’s “The Last Indian Fight in Kerr County,” Owen Wister’s “Hank’s Woman,” and Elmore Leonard’s “The Tonto Woman,” but they hardly help showcase the generally under-appreciated work of the many women who have taken pen in hand to tell their own stories of the Old West.
Alter and Row may argue that women writers have left too little to choose from in short form fiction, which is their chosen scope for their anthology. I’d argue that a wide reading of novels would have produced many worthy excerpts from them that would fairly represent the field and reintroduce forgotten writers to a modern audience. That job, alas, has been left to someone else.
First published in 1994 by Texas Christian University Press, Unbridled Spirits is currently available in paperback at amazon, Barnes&Noble, and AbeBooks. For more of Friday's Forgotten Books, click over to Patti Abbott's blog.
Coming up: Wilson Hudson, ed., Andy Adams' Campfire Tales (1956)
Well the good thing about such collections is that there's always room for an updated edition.ReplyDelete
I've always liked that cover painting by Tom Lovell. I believe it's called "Target Practice."ReplyDelete
I wonder, did the editors only draw on short fiction previously collected in book form? It seems with the hundreds of writers publishing short fiction in magazines in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, there would surely be some Western fiction by women among them.
Incidentally, I thought you might be interested in a recent post at my blog. When I read The Virginian I was delighted by the mentions of New England locations I knew well, so last weekend I hunted down a few of the exact spots and took pictures of them as they are today.
I agree with you. It doesn't seem like they searched very hard, unless there were difficulties with copyrights.ReplyDelete
Maybe they just wanted to sell some books and not cover the spectrum of women's short fiction.ReplyDelete
Anything is possible.Delete
Ron, I'd prefer to read books on frontier fiction, particularly the early years, written by female writers rather than through women characters who figure in frontier stories authored by male writers. There is a vast difference between the two. I have been captivated by the few stories by female writers that I have read.ReplyDelete
I agree. You get a whole different perspective.Delete
I'd add it to my collection. Thanks, Ron.ReplyDelete
One would hope, but probably in vain, that a Uni press and its editors wouldn't push for a more commercial product, but that might well've been the case here, for them to even consider doing the altho at all.ReplyDelete
Perhaps James Reasoner or someone else might well consider a more informed or at least more enlightening selection from you, for publication...
I typed "antho" and didn't note the spellcheck "helping" me out with a variant on "although"...Delete
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