The Development of the American Short Story: An Historical Survey

By Fred Lewis Pattee | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XI
THE ERA OF LOCALIZED ROMANCE

In 1870 America, so far as fiction was concerned, was divided into two camps: the first, the conservative group that clung to the traditions of the mid-century; the second, the element which a reviewer of the period denominated "the invading Goths from over the mountains." As early as 1873 The Atlantic could speak of these "Goths" as a "school," and deem it worthy of record that almost to a man the writers were now in the East. Their increasing popularity was filling the old New England group with alarm. Readers everywhere were discussing the sudden rise of Bret Harte. Book agents were entering every home in America with Innocents Abroad, a book that made light of the whole serious alcove of American travel literature, that exhibited the sacred shrines of Europe humorously and with no more reverence than if they were mining camps in the Sierras. Even the poetic John Hay, just back from Spain with a new Spanish sketch-book, Castilian Days, had gone over to the Goths and was writing ballads that out-Piked the work of even the "Dow's Flat" school. Eggleston was making use of the wild Hoosiers as if they were legitimate material for romance. Mark Twain had been added to the contributing staff of The Galaxy and very soon was to run in The Atlantic his southwestern serial, Old Times on the Mississippi. Most decidedly were the Goths taking possession of the East.

The new product was accepted at first as a passing phenomenon, to be explained by the fact that the multitude loved the humorous, and in everything save the word "passing" the judgment was right. The California writers were nothing if not humorous. The Atlantic tried to explain the entire literary situation in terms of humor:

Their humor [that of the California school] broad or fine, has the same general character, as if in each of them it came from a sense of their own anomaly, as men of the literary temperament and ambition in a world of rude adventure, rapacious money getting and barbarous profusion.

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