Westerns have been around for a long, long time

I get highly amused when critics attack romance, the most recent instance being a poll on a national bog which, once again, termed romance “bodice rippers.”

Apparently they don’t know — or care — that the romance novel, song, poem have been the most enduring — and beloved — of all literature since the beginning of the writtern word.   Romance in literature can be traced back to 700 hundred B.C. when the Chinese poet, Li Po, wrote romantic poentry.   Romance fiction dates back to the 12th century.    It’s preceded only by epic poetry and the allegorical tale like Esops Fables. 

 Don’t the critics know that “Tristan and Isolde” was a romance, that Alinor of Aquitaine wrote the first extended full scale love stories in the western world, that much of the literature students taught today are romances:  “Idles of the King,” Lancelot and Guinevere,  “Romeo and Juliet,” “Pamela,” and “Fanny Hill?”

Romances then were often banned or criticized by the church because they — horrors — elevated women.    Romance has been shunned by men throughout history but it led to changes in society.   Women demanded more rights, more respect.   They expected more from men, such as cleanliness and fidelity.  

I love this critic’s take on Jane Austen.   He wrote: “I am of a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen’s novels with regard.  They seem, to me, vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention . . . without genius, wit or  knowledge of the world.”

And about Wuthering Heights, “Here are all the faults of Jane Eyre are magnified a thousand fold . . . and the only consolation which we have is it will never be generally read.”  

It’s not the accounts of battles or religious epics or “literature” that linger in the mind and hearts of centuries of readers.   It’s the romances.

But critics have never wanted facts to get in the way of opinion.

Which leads me to American westerns.

From: “The Cowgirls” by Joyce Gipson Roach:

“From the very beginnings of all three — the dime novels, fiction and movies — the west was equal to other American subject matter.  Those entering the gates of legend and lore, cowgirls included, found themselves enshrined and, for better or worse, immortalized.”

Before 1880, heroines seemed to exist solely to give the hero something to rescue.  Again according to “The Cowgirlds,” a book I dearly love, the ladies managed to get themselves into one compromising situation after another.  Indian attacks were frequent.   “Every reader knew that a ‘a fate worse than death’ awaited the heroine at the hands of the Indian, but in these books it was only a threat.   The Indians of most dime novels were in great awe of maidenhood.  “They might dangle the victim over the coals but, according to one observer, “their honor was as safe as if they were in a convent.  Indians were, all of them, gentlemen.”

But in 1880, things started to change, and women changed from the helpless fragile variety, to active, vigorous women who could not only save herself but the hero as well.

From “Rough Rider Weekly” published in 1906:

“The desperadoes are gaining fast.

“Leave me, Ted,” she cried.   “They will kill you if they get you, and you can escape on Sultan, which can outrun any of their horses.”

“Ted looked at her and laughed.  ‘I guess not,’ he called back.  ‘Keep it up, we’ll win yet.'”

Ted does not leave her.    The couple escapes and not because of the hero.  It’s the heroine, Stella, who knows a solution when she sees one, and Ted is sitting on it — Sultan the stallion.  When Ted is shot out of the saddle and left hanging thereon by the skin of his chaps, Stella catches Sultan by the bridle and suggests he ought to whoa.   As Ted was about to fall, she sprang into the saddle, caught him and dashed away to safety.”

Now this is my kind of western.

It’s typical of what frontier heroines became when, in 1860, Beadle and Adams started issuing their versions of adventure in the form of dime novels.         

The novels helped popularize notions about western cowfirlds and have become a valuable tool for historians.   Like romance novels in the 12th century, they changed society.   The west entered for the first time into the consciousness of a large number of Americans.   They reflected, according to Merle Curti writing for the Yale Review, “a much wider range of attitudes and ideas than the ballad or folk song” and were “the nearest thing we have had in this country to . . . a literature written for the great masses of people and actually read by them.”

The novels, as did those in earlier centuries, encouraged self reliance.  Charles M. Harvey, “Manliness and womanliness among the readers were cultivated by these little books, not by homilies but by example. . . even the taste and tone of the life of the generation which grew up with these tales were improved by them.”

So there, critics!!!!

Hopefully this gives you some ammunition for the next person who says, “I don’t read those books.”    We help change society and have for many, many centuries.

What exactly have they done?

Do you have any stories about those poor misled people?   And great comebacks. 



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11 thoughts on “Westerns have been around for a long, long time”

  1. Okay, here’s me being snippy. (gotta love THAT!)
    I think fundamentally the reason romance novels are disrespected is because:
    They are Written by woman
    Edited by woman
    Agented by woman
    Published by woman
    Read by woman

    Of course there are men in all those fields but no where are women in so many seats of power at all levels.

    And that is enough to earn it disrespect.

  2. I remember watching The Big Valley a lot. It seems like it was on reruns in the afternoon sometime in my life.
    What I noticed and sort of claimed in my heart was, each week the story would FOCUS on one of them. The others would drop back to secondary characters.
    They’d get into whatever trouble they had to and then they (here’s the cool part) SAVE THEMSELVES, about two minutes before the whole family would come riding in to save them.
    So we know they’d have been okay because of their family and support system, but of course they were tough enough they could do whatever was necessary on their own.

    I loved that. Especially when Victoria or Audra saved themselves. I love tough women and I loved that the writer’s respected them enough to let them save themselves.

    Victoria seemed like she was called upon to save herself far more than Audra.

  3. Great article, Patricia. I, too, often wonder what goes through people’s minds when they hear the words “romance novel.” I got the impression that the quotes against romance you mentioned were perhaps written by men?
    I recently found a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover in a used book store. I plan to read it in the near future. It’s one I don’t remember reading before and I’m curious about all the ruckus it caused back in the day.

  4. This was fabulous, Patricia. I’ve got a dime-novelist heroine in a new thing I’m starting so this helps me a ton.

    The West was sure a great equalizer full of self-reliant people, that’s for sure. I have read LCL and believe me, for as scandalous it was in its day, it’s barely erotica now. I think it, too, was scandalous because of the strong, do-my-own- thing heroine.

    Are reproduction dime-novels still available to read?

    I too hate the bodice-ripper tag. A couple years ago I started reading Michael Jeck’s medieval mysteries, and visiting his website, he made it clear WHY he changed the title of one FROM “Harlequin.” And it was a nasty slur against romance novels.

    I e-mailed him..but guess what? Never heard back. Big surprise.

    Thanks as always, fillies, for a fabulous read full of helpful info.

  5. Hi Pat – Great theme today about romance novels and respect. I get it all the time. Even from a Walmart book promoter I met who called our books, “Crotch novels”. Sorry to be crude. My comeback, “Don’t ever say that to a romance author. They get offended.”

    I wish I’d had something more clever to say!

    And romance always get a bad rap, but you know, I also say, “Love Makes the World go Around.” And I really believe it.

  6. You made some excellent points, Pat. And “Crotch Novels?” Yegads, Charlene, I’d have hauled off and slugged him. Your comeback was right on.
    When people put down romance I like to remind them that the romance market is a HUGE and thriving part of the publishing industry. It’s very serious business and the writers are full-fledged professionals. We need to be.

  7. I was on another blog with authors and we were discussing the way we describe ourselves when meeting new people. Romance novelist? I write romantic suspense? I write historicals? Of the seven, we had all gone to “I write romance” and to heck with anyone who doesn’t like it. If anyone says they don’t read romance, I retort that perhaps they should try something before condemning it. It shows a decided lack of intellectual curiosity. Then I give them a list of authors and books.

  8. *stands and applauds* Love this post!

    I have had people say, “I don’t read those kind of books.” My first thought was, “You poor thing.” But I wasn’t brave enough to say it.

    I did tell a family member that I don’t criticize or make fun of the things they love, that they shouldn’t do that to me…not sure it worked, but they haven’t said anything else to me about it.

    What gets me is the people who have never even picked one up condemning them…they are really missing out. And if you think about it, almost every genre of fiction (and even some non-fiction) has some element of romance or a love story to it. Where would we be without love and romance? If it is the love scenes they object to, there are romances that don’t have those…so do they just not like happy endings?

  9. “Crotch Novels?” Come back with “Yeh, I could use it for that right now”

    Jennifer you are correct on people judging a story line when they haven’t even read it (much like a skinny person telling you how to lose weight). I have learned a lot of useful knowledge reading historical romance.

    Charlene is right love is what makes the world go around. In fact the Bible itself says love is the only thing that last.

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