“To Theodore Roosevelt: Some of these pages you have seen, some you have praised, one stands new-written because you blamed it; and all, my dear critic, beg leave to remind you of their author’s changeless admiration,” reads the dedication to The Virginian, Owen Wister’s classic 1902 novel. Roosevelt writes to Wister about how pleased he was with the dedication. When he read the book, Roosevelt most likely thought about North Dakota, the western home that he loved so much. Wister and TR both followed the so-called “West Cure” espoused by the physician Silas Weir Mitchell. Women would be advised to stay at home and seclude themselves. However, men should go west and live a life of strenuous activity and adventure. Wister went to Wyoming and TR made the Dakota Territory his home.
Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Owen Wister, May 29, 1902. From the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.
Books and reading occupy a central place in the story of The Virginian. The Virginian reads Sir Walter Scott and discusses Jane Austen with his love, Molly Wood. As a consummate reader and someone who never traveled without a book (even while marching the boat thieves into Dickinson, North Dakota in the middle of the winter, TR still read Tolstoy), Roosevelt would have appreciated the role literature played in this frontier story. The Wild West, as represented in the rollicking tales Roosevelt loved may be disappearing. However, books represent the deepening knowledge of what the world can hold and a means of preserving a vanishing past.
For a full and intimate description of Theodore Roosevelt and Owen Wister’s friendship, please read Roosevelt: The Story of a Friendship (1930). Wister eloquently describes his relationship with TR.
If you are interested in learning more about The Virginian, check out Reading The Virginian in the New West, Edited by Melody Graulich and Stephen Tatum. (University of Nebraska Press, 2003).