One of those men was a literary critic and essayist named Leslie Fielder, who taught at Missoula for nearly two decades after World War II. Though a number of his works received broad national attention, here in Montana Fielder is best remembered for a little essay titled "Montana; or The End of Jean-Jacques Rousseau." First published in the December, 1949 issue of the Partisan Review, the piece has been reprinted several times since, sometimes under the simpler title, "The Montana Face." It's a scathing essay, guaranteed to offend a great many Montanans then and now. Here's a sample paragraph, in which he describes his thoughts after moving to Missoula to teach, resolutely prepared "to face down any student who came to argue about his grades armed with a six-shooter":
I was met unexpectedly by the Montana Face. What I had been expecting I do not clearly know; zest, I suppose, naivete', a ruddy and straightforward kind of vigor - perhaps even honest brutality. What I found seemed, at first glance, reticent, sullen, weary - full of self-sufficient stupidity; a little later it appeared simply inarticulate, with all the dumb pathos of what cannot declare itself: a face developed not for sociability or feeling, but for facing into the weather. It said friendly things to be sure, and meant them; but it had no adequate physical expressions even for friendliness, and the muscles around the mouth and eyes were obviously unprepared to cope with the demands of any more complicated emotion.There's more to the essay than that, though, something that makes it a very important read for anyone who either lives in Montana or loves the place. His key point is this: we as Montanans cling to myths about ourselves and our past, about our status as a last frontier ... and that doing so intellectually and emotionally holds us back. He sums it up in the his essay's final words, which I think still ring true: "[W]hen he has learned that his state is where the myth comes to die, the Montanan may find the possibilities of tragedy and poetry for which so far he has searched his life in vain."