Monday, June 09, 2008

Reader's Diary #365- Bret Harte: The Luck of Roaring Camp

Short Story Monday

At the Short Story Reading Challenge post a few days ago, Fay Sheco pointed out an Encyclopedia Brittanica article on the history of the short story. She's decided to use the many authors listed as a sort of reading guide, paying her attention to those she'd either not read or haven't read in quite some time. It's a great list and I've decided to follow suit, starting with professional wrestler and story teller, Bret "The Hitman" Hart. Kidding already! But is it my Canadian upbringing that I was familiar with the the greasy haired guy to the left and not the 19th century author with the similar name?

Perhaps I should have stopped at finding one of Harte's stories online. Instead, I went digging for more information, resorting to that old standby, Wikipedia. Here I found that Mark Twain wasn't a fan of Harte, calling his writing insincere. Of the miners in The Luck of Roaring Camp, the story which I was about to read, Twain added that their dialect rang false and that it didn't exist outside Harte's story.

Not that I'm a die-hard fan of Twain, but I think his assessment tainted my reading of Harte's story. Too often during my first read through I find myself questioning how authentic the miners were. I didn't always come to the same conclusion as Twain, and even when I did find them a little over-the-top, I questioned whether or not Harte was simply being satirical. These aren't necessarily bad issues to consider, but perhaps they would have been better suited for a 2nd or 3rd reading: the first time around they were too distracting.

In hindsight, I think Twain was a little unfair. I don't think there was enough talking in the story to assess whether or not the miners spoke believably or not. Certainly lines like, "You go in there, Stumpy...Go in there, and see what you kin do. You've had experience in them things" sound plausible enough to me. When I think of bad dialect, I think of E. Annie Proulx's fictional Newfoundland dialect in The Shipping News. However, I have a little more familiarity with that one, and a whole lot more to work with in a novel's worth of conversation.

Not to take Harte off the hook altogether, this particular story of miners finding hope and redemption in a pretty unlikely source, is a bit on the sentimental side. To me, that's where the insincerity comes in. Of course, when it comes to human nature, I can sometimes be a cynic. Read the story yourself. Maybe you'd feel otherwise.


Rob Hardy said...

I posted a review of this same story last August. You can read it here. I enjoyed what you had to say about it. I agree with you about the story's sentimentality.

John Mutford said...

Rob: I couldn't get your link to work, so I tried looking for it. Hopefully this one works. Your review was more thorough than mine, but your pointing out the allusions to the Christ child was pretty interesting.

raidergirl3 said...

There's another Bret Hart?

I was so confused. I thought Bret 'The Hitman' Hart wrote a book. You learn so much on the internet.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I admit to being terrified when I first skimmed your post before reading it properly and thought the wrestler wrote the story. I was very afraid of what I would find. But now I feel safe enough to click the link.

John Mutford said...

Raidergirl: Actually that Bret Hart wrote a book, too.

Barbara: I was hoping to confuse a lot of people with that picture.