Reading into it: Wallace Stegner's novelistic sense of time and place

Colin Charles Irvine, Marquette University


As a novelist, historian, and conservationist, Wallace Stegner encouraged people to recognize that the frontier myth, when woven into the romantic western genre, serves to perpetuate problematic, false beliefs about life in the West and to separate the past from the present. Resisting the way in which this predominantly romantic genre preserves and perpetuates the fictitious frontier myth, Stegner, in a number of his novels, presents a reading experience that persuades the reader to reconsider the myths and establish a connection between the past and present. The problem I address in the dissertation relates directly to the fact that many scholars have studied either Stegner's style or the content of his fiction, but most have not yet studied the relationships among the style, the subject matter, and the reader's role. With this in mind, my objective is to illustrate how and why, as Stegner's style becomes more complex, the reader's role becomes more pronounced and important. As a result of imaginatively participating in the construction of the story, the reader is encouraged to reconsider myths, to understand the complexity and relevance of ecology, and to appreciate the importance of historical continuity in the West. When Stegner began to locate his stories in the consciousness of a single narrator--as opposed to positioning them either in an imaginary, constructed realm distinct from the writer's time and place or within the consciousness of a number of different characters--he took a decisive first step toward helping readers to understand the significance of continuity. By setting the story in a narrator's mind, he was able to illustrate how memory influences one's understanding of the present and how the present, in turn, affects the way in which a person interprets the past. Furthermore, by locating the creation of the story in the writer's consciousness and by constantly highlighting this location, Stegner's novels convey the idea that, because time is continuous, and because we cannot elide time, we live and think in time and, therefore, cannot escape the consequences of our thoughts and related behavior (101).

Recommended Citation

Irvine, Colin Charles, "Reading into it: Wallace Stegner's novelistic sense of time and place" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3059377.