Fiction > Harvard Classics > Francis Bret Harte > Criticisms and Interpretations > II
Francis Bret Harte (1836–1902).  The Luck of Roaring Camp, The Outcasts of Poker Flat & The Idyl of Red Gulch.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Criticisms and Interpretations
II. By Henry Seidel Canby
WHAT gives these characters their lasting power? Why does that highly melodramatic tragedy in the hills above Poker Flat, with its stagy reformations, and contrasts of black sinner and white innocent, hold you spellbound at the thirtieth as at the first reading? Bret Harte believed, apparently, that it was his realism which did it. He had put the Western miner into literature as he was—hence the applause. He had compounded his characters of good and evil as in life, thus approximating the truth, and avoiding the error of the cartoon, in which the dissolute miner was so dissolute that it was said, “They’ve just put the keerds on that chap from the start.” But we do not wait to be told by Californians, who still remember the red-shirt period, that Roaring Camp is not realism. The lack of it is apparent in every paragraph describing that fascinating settlement. The man who would look for Yuba Bill at Sandy Bar, would search for Pickwick in London, and Peggotty on Yarmouth Beach. Not the realism, but the idealization, of this life of the Argonauts was the prize Bret Harte gained. After all, the latter part of the introduction to his first book was more pertinent than the first, which I have just been paraphrasing, for, at the end, he admits a desire to revive the poetry of a heroic era, and to collect the material for an Iliad of the intrepid Argonauts of California.—From “The Short Story in English” (1909).   1


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