The Best Novels and Stories of Eugene Manlove Rhodes

What do you think is Rhodes’s most important legacy? Why?

Rhodes is remembered as a cowboy chronicler. While his writing may not embody the elements of story that we now think are necessary in a Western, his writing remains well respected precisely because it lacks melodrama and instead relies on realism. The result of his depiction of reality, he’s also probably remembered as a writer who captured the reality of language and how it was spoken and by whom. These elements make his fiction an important historical record valued by scholars, outside of English and literature, who are interested in the history of language and historical reality of cowboy life in the American West.

Rhodes has been called the “cowboy chronicler,” but I hint that he goes beyond just mere chronicling (which, after all, we could get from a diary). Discuss some ways that Rhodes is creating a myth or legend about New Mexican cowboys of a century ago. Think about the images you already had of such cowboys. In what ways does Rhodes reinforce those images? In what ways does he create cowboy images that you find new and unexpected?

As a genre, the Western is dominated by cliché images of rogue individualists who solve a town’s problems using their wits and some smarts. They stand up against corrupt government and save the day. These clichés are so commonplace that the genre (in movies) has reached its saturation point a couple of decades ago and as a result now seems old-fashioned, boring and uninteresting. That does not however mean that good works of fiction and film set in the American West during the 19th century are not still being made or cannot continue to be made in the future. All that this means is that contemporary art (fiction, film), working with cowboys during this time and place, needs to be infused with a degree of complexity (i.e. humanity) in order to be worthwhile.

What is interesting to me about Rhodes’ writing is that his approach to the Western already relies on a great degree of complexity. The stories pay a great deal of attention to characters’ inner drives and struggles and thus present the reader with a relatively contemporary narrative. For example, “”Oh come ye in peace here or come ye in war?” Such injudicious quotation trembled on the tip of her tongue, but she suppressed it–barely in time. She felt herself growing nervous with the fear lest she should be hurried into some all too luminous speech” (133). Here, Rhodes stops the action and forces the reader to pay attention to the character’s inner life, the way that Virginia Woolf does in her writing. As a result, his writing is almost a reinterpretation of the cliché Western even though he was writing in a time when the clichés were not yet clichés and this reinterpretation was not needed. My hope is that our culture finds and rediscovers Rhodes as a writer way ahead of his time in the way that Herman Melville was rediscovered and embraced in the early 20th century. The Western is way too important to the American tradition to only be a joke.

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