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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 227

  Novels of foreign life might have flourished more numerously had it not been for the zest with which the rarer materials of existence were pursued at home. Better though the local color writers were in short stories than in novels, their longer novels cannot be overlooked. Bret Harte, in such attempts as The Story of a Mine (1878), Maruja (1885), Cressy (1889), A Waif of the Plains (1890), as in other brief novels like them, did no more than to expand short stories with a loss of effectiveness in proportion as he expanded them. And Gabriel Conroy (1876), a long novel, for all the novelty and even riches of its contrasts of California civilizations, is lamentably deficient as regards conception, structure, and suspense. With certain touches here and there of Harte’s romantic charm or insinuating irony, it is for the most part mere melodrama, without even the distinction of being swift or thrilling as melodrama should be. The contrast of Californian civilizations led Helen Hunt Jackson to write one of the most moving of American romances. In A Century of Dishonor (1881) she had begun her indictment of the United States government for its treatment of the Indians. In Ramona (1884) she carried the indictment further, bringing her passion to bear in a new guise. What Uncle Tom’s Cabin had done to make known the wrongs of the black slaves, Ramona attempted to do for the red wards of the nation. It was no longer possible to take Fenimore Cooper’s attitude toward the Indian as a lofty child of nature; since Cooper’s day there had been the wars with the Sioux and the massacre of Custer. Mrs. Jackson eluded the difficulty by making Ramona, the heroine, and her Temecula husband Alessandro so near



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