1st Edition

Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs through It” The Search for Beauty

    234 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs through It”: The Search for Beauty is the first book-length study of Norman Maclean or any of his works. Since the publication of “A River Runs through It” in 1976, readers and critics have considered it to be one of the most carefully crafted stories in American literature, in terms of both its structure and its style. The beauty of the story came with much hard work. This study traces Maclean’s revisions through four handwritten drafts and three typescripts, quoting extensively from previously unpublished material. The analysis of Maclean’s composition process lays the foundation for original and detailed discussions of other aspects of Maclean’s craft, such as his approach to genre and style. The study publishes for the first time the complete text of the notes that Maclean wrote after the first draft of “A River Runs through It.”

    List of Figures
    Note on Diplomatic Transcriptions, Citations from Maclean Papers, and Bibliographic Terms

    Chapter 1: Norman Maclean’s Improbable Writing Career

    Chapter 2: Evolution of the Beginning

                The First Draft (MS1; Box 34, Folder 1)

                The Second Draft (MS2A;m Box 33, Folder 10)

                The Third Draft (MS3; Box 33, Folder 11) and Fourth Draft (MS4; Box 33, Folder 12)

                Revisions on the Typescripts


     Chapter 3: No Clear Line between Fiction and Nonfiction

                Shifting Time


                Real People and Characters

                Paul’s Death


    Chapter 4: Variations of Time

                Clock Time

                Calendar Time

                Historical Time


                Diurnal Time

                Biblical Time

                Geological Time


                All Things Merge into One


    Chapter 5: The Problem of Genre

                Genre and Emotions

                Romance and Nostalgia: Norman and Paul’s Childhood

                Ceremonial Rhetoric: The Montana Club

                Paul and the Beautiful: The First Fishing Trip

                A Little Tragedy: Paul in Jail

                Comedy: Neal at Black Jack’s Bar

                Mock-Tragedy: The Second Fishing Trip

                Comedy: The Third Fishing Trip

                Romance and the Sublime: The Last Fishing Trip

                Tragedy: The Aftermath of Paul’s Death

                Resolution: The Lyric and the Beautiful


     Chapter 6: Style and Hidden Art

                Reverend Maclean’s Commonplace Book

                Storytelling Around the Campfire

                A Personal Poetic Language

                Rhythm in Maclean’s Prose

                Sound in Maclean’s Prose


     Chapter 7: The Evolution of the End

                Notes Version, Written 5 November 1973 (First MS Version, Summer to Early Fall 1973)           

                A “Crude Version” (Second MS Version, MS1 Fragment, Late Winter to Early Spring 1974)           

                MS2B (Third MS Version, Spring 1974)

                Fair Copy (Fourth MS Version, Late Spring 1974)           

                Revisions on Typescript Pages (Early Summer 1974 to Spring 1976)           

                Print Versions (1976 to Present)           


    Appendix 1: Notes on Revising “Fly Fishing” (MS1)

    Appendix 2: Typescripts, Fonts, and Typists

                Fonts and Typists

                Rejected Typescript Pages

                History of Typescripts

                Difficulties Dating the First Full Typescript

                Anomalies with Typescripts

    Appendix 3: Implications for Editing “A River Runs through It”

    Appendix 4: Symmetry in “A River Runs through It”




    George H. Jensen is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Arkansas Little Rock. His books include Personality and the Teaching of Composition (with John K. DiTiberio, 1989), Storytelling in Alcoholics Anonymous: A Rhetorical Analysis (2000), Identities Across Texts (2002), and The Ethics of Nonfiction: Rhetoric, Ethos, and Identity (2023). In addition these scholarly works, he has written Some of the Words are Theirs: A Memoir of an Alcoholic Family (2009). He currently lives in Roanoke, Virginia.

    Heidi Skurat Harris is an Associate Professor and the Graduate Coordinator with the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She is co-author (with Michael Greer) of Multimedia in the College Classroom: Improve Learning and Connect with Students in Online and Hybrid Classes (2024). She is also the lead editor of the Bedford Bibliography of Research in Online Writing Instruction (2017). She has published creative nonfiction and research on professional development.