America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 43-44.

 

Smiley, Jane.  The All-True Travels and Adventures of Liddie Newton.  New York: Knopf, 1998.

Much of Jane Smiley’s growing reputation has derived from her penetrating depictions of contemporary life in the rural Midwest.  But she has also written several well-received historical novels, including The All-True Travels and Adventures of Liddie Newton.  Set on the American central plains in the decade before the Civil War, the novel approaches the issues that convulsed the nation though the experiences of very ordinary characters.

Although the title character of this novel moves only from central Illinois to Kansas, this movement represents a very profound and almost inconceivable transformation of her existence.  An unusually tall and rather plain-looking young woman with very limited material assets and even more limited prospects, Liddie is rescued from her unpromising future by Thomas Newton.  A New England abolitionist, he meets her while he is passing through Illinois on his way to Kansas, which has become the focal point in the increasingly violent contest over the extension of slavery into the Western territories.  Thomas is the most romantic figure whom Liddie has ever encountered, and in her, he finds a woman who is for the most part willing to embrace his ideals in embracing him.

When they settle in Kansas, the Newtons not only must contend with the continuous threat of violence from pro-slavery forces, but they must also adapt to the hard conditions of homesteading, the isolation of frontier life, and the harsh extremes of the weather on the plains. Their story has dark turns, but Smiley frames it as a romantic quest, emphasizing the dogged hopefulness that permitted Western settlers to face a wasteland and to see in it a paradise.

 

Williams, Jeanne.  The Valiant Women.  New York: Pocket, 1980.

The author of over fifty novels, most of which have been set in the American West, Jeanne Williams has synthesized the conventions of the historical romance with those of the Western.  In truth, the two genres have often not been very far removed from each other.  A difficult romantic involvement has long been a standard subplot in Westerns.  The major distinction in Williams’ work is that the female characters have typically been the protagonists, rather than less complexly developed “love interests.”

One of four novels by Williams to win the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, The Valiant Women is the first novel in her “Arizona Saga” trilogy, which also includes Harvest of Fury (1981) and A Mating of Hawks (1982).  Set in Arizona Territory in the years preceding the Civil War, The Valiant Women details the hazards on a frontier that paradoxically included some settlements with long histories and yet as a whole had just barely been opened to settlement.  The major characters are three young women—a vivacious Latina, a undemonstrative Native American, and a White woman recently ransomed from the Apaches who had seized her as a child in a raid and had raised her.  All three are in love with the same man, a somewhat contrived premise since men so outnumbered women on the frontier that the reverse situation would be much more likely.  But the novel very credibly explores their very different cultural points of view the three women, without reducing them simply to types, and it very vividly depicts the difficulties of being female in an environment that left most men physically and psychologically damaged, if not dead.

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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/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 41-42: https://academeblog.org/2015/04/05/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-41-42/

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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/

 

4 thoughts on “America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 43-44.

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