America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 41-42.

 

Richter, Conrad.  The Sea of Grass.  New York: Knopf, 1937.

Conrad Richter is best known for his Awakening Land trilogy about the settlement of the Ohio frontier: The Trees (1940), The Fields (1946), and The Town (1950).  But Richter’s earliest stories and novels were set on the later and very different frontier of the Southwest.  A native of Pennsylvania, Richter had relocated to New Mexico when his wife’s health demanded a drier climate.  In New Mexico, he discovered that many of the residents either still remembered the frontier period or were only a generation removed from it.  He reworked the stories that he absorbed into his first collection of short fiction, Early Americana and Other Stories (1936) and his first novel, The Sea of Grass.

Establishing Richter as a major new voice in American fiction, The Sea of Grass was a finalist for the National Book Award and earned him the Gold Medal for Literature from the Society of Libraries of New York University.  In 1947, the novel was adapted to a film starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Melvyn Douglas.  Although the film was panned by some critics, its cast insured its commercial success.

The major characters of the novel and film are Jim and Lutie Brewton.  A cattleman who has amassed great wealth and power, Jim Brewton brings his Eastern wife into a frontier environment that overwhelms her from the very start and that eventually causes her to view her husband as the embodiment of all that lies beyond civilization.  As he seeks to drive off the settlers who are bent on fencing much of the open range on which his vast herds have grazed, she becomes involved with a lawyer whose devotion to the ostensibly good cause of the settlers is colored by a great deal of personal animus.  In the end, Jim Brewton is proven right about the unsuitability of the high plains to cultivation.  After the settlers have plowed up the deep-rooted prairie grasses, a drought reduces the thin topsoil to a powder that begins to blow away more quickly than the settlers themselves can pack up and move on.  Yet, by then, the fate of the open range has been sealed.  Jim Brewton has become an anachronism in an age progressing inevitably toward farms and settled communities.

 

Sandoz, Mari.  Slogum House.  Boston: Atlantic, 1937.

A native of Nebraska, Mari Sandoz grew up in the still very primitive environment of the western Sandhills region, where her father had been one of the first permanent settlers.  An irascible but enduring character, he would become the subject of her first book, Old Jules.  It would come to be considered the first book in a six-volume treatment that became known as Sandoz’s “Great Plains Series.”  The other volumes in the series were Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas (1942), Cheyenne Autumn (1953), The Buffalo Hunter: The Story of the hide Men (1954), The Cattlemen: From the Rio Grande to the Far Marias (1958), and The Beaver Men: Spearheads of Empire (1964).

Although the “Great Plains Series” has been considered Sandoz’ masterwork, she also wrote novels throughout her long career.  The first of these, Slogum House, very vividly depicts the dark possibilities of frontier life.  Gulla Slogum initially operates a roadhouse in which her own daughters prostitute themselves.  Gradually but relentlessly, Gulla begins to acquire land and wealth and influence.  When she cannot persuade someone to acquiesce to her schemes, her murderous sons stage an ambush.  When these methods earn her a notorious reputation that increasingly places her at legal risk, she has her daughters seduce the local lawmen.  The embodiment of the ruthlessly acquisitive personality, Gulla Slogum seemed at once a warning against the sort of excesses that have been part of the American pursuit of its “manifest destiny.”  In addition, the novel was read as a warning against the appeal of fascism, which had by 1937 become a very serious threat to democratic institutions and international peace.

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Previous Posts in This Series:

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 1-2: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/10/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-1-2/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 3-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/16/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-3-5/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 6-8: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/20/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-6-8/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 9-11: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/04/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-9-11/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 12-14: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/12/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-12-14/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 15-17: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/21/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-15-17/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 18-20: https://academeblog.org/2014/11/02/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-18-20/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 21-23: https://academeblog.org/2014/11/09/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-21-23/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 24-26: https://academeblog.org/2014/11/23/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-24-26/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 27-29: https://academeblog.org/2014/12/25/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-27-29/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 30-32: https://academeblog.org/2015/01/19/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-30-32/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 33-35: https://academeblog.org/2015/02/05/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-33-35/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 36-38: https://academeblog.org/2015/03/10/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-36-37/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 39-40: https://academeblog.org/2015/03/21/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-39-40/

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Posts in the Previous Series:

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 1-3: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-1-3/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 4-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/31/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-4-5/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 6-7: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/01/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-6-7/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 8-10: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/04/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-8-10/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 11-13: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/06/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-11-13/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 14-16: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-14-16/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 17-19: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/18/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-17-19/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 20-22: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/25/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-20-22/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 23-25: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/07/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-23-25/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 26-29: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-26-29/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 30-32: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/23/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-30-32/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 33: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/29/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-33/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 34-36: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/10/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-34-36/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 37-39: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/15/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-37-39/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 40-42: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/21/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-40-42/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 43-45: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/23/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-43-45/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 46-48: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/26/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-46-48/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 49-50: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-49-50/

 

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