My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received this book as a digital ARC from the publisher through Net Galley in return for an honest review.
This book describes the lives of Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Ina Coolbrith and Charles Warren Stoddard. They were the main writers of the “Bohemian” movement in San Francisco in the late 19th century.
By the 1860s, the city had spawned on extraordinary literary scene – a band of outsiders called the Bohemians. Twain joined their ranks, and the encounter would shape the entire current of his life.
Despite the fact that the author gave a certain emphasis on Mark Twain’s literary career, their work progressed as well as Twain’s.
About the Bohemians:
The Bohemians were nonconformists by choice or by circumstance, and they eased their isolation by forming intense friendships with one another.
The Bohemians would bring a fresh spirit to American writing, drawn from the new world being formed in the Far West. If the gold guard of American literature was genteel, moralistic, grandiose, then the Bohemians would be ironic and irreverent.
Together they would do more than anyone of the era to put the Far West on the national stage.
A group called the Bohemian Club started in 1872, had briefly offered hope of keeping San Francisco’s creative energy alive.
By the time Oscar Wilde stopped by in 1882, the transformation was complete. “I never saw so many well-dressed, welled, business-looking Bohemians in my life,” he remarked.
About Mark Twain:
—“mark twain” meant “two fathoms,” a phrase that could signal safety or danger depending on the ship’s location.
But Hawaii wasn’t purely a vacation: it also gave Twain invaluable training in travel writing, the genre that would produce his first major book, The Innocents Abroad.
Roughing It would be part fiction, part fact: the story of the six most formative years of his life, beginning with that fateful day in 1861 when he boarded a stagecoach with his brother Orion and fled the Civil War for the far frontier beyond the plains.
No wonder Twain loved England: it gave him the legitimacy he always wanted.
If The Innocents Abroad and Roughing It showed a young country struggling up to adulthood, The Gilded Age would be the story of its growing pains.
Yet for all its faults, The Gilded Age represented a major step forward for Twain. It was his first novel, and his first published attempt to put his boyhood memories into a full-length work of fiction.
About Bret Harte:
In the coming years, the The Heathen Chinese would become a rallying cry and a recruiting tool for the crusade against Chinese immigration.
For years, he had mentored them. He had given them a platform, a Bohemia to belong to. Then he went East and slammed the door shut behind him.
Harte had lost his sense of early California as a cosmic joke. He now eulogized the pioneers with the same rhetoric he once ridiculed. In fact, his description of the miners of 1849 – an “Argonaut brotherhood” of “jauntily insolent” young Americans – sounded curiously like another frontier fraternity: the Bohemians of the Pacific coast.
About Ina Coolbrith:
Tragedy changed her. It bred a depressive streak that tempered the wilder impulses of her girlhood, made her reticent, yet also unusually solicitous toward people in pain.
About Charles Warren Stoddard:
“Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” still reads brilliantly, but it’s not as funny now as it was when it first appeared.
South-Sea Idyls would be an anti-travelogue in the tradition of Twain’s Roughing It.
By becoming “Bohemians,” California’s postwar parvenus could playact at glamorous poverty. They could pretend that art, not money, was what united them.
For Harte, Stoddard and Coolbrith, Bohemia had meant the best years of their lives.
I found this book a masterpiece of the American literary criticism, to be read by all fans of American fiction.