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Bret Harte (1836-1902)

The American writer Bret Harte (1836-1902) was more-or-less just a name to me until I downloaded his Complete Works onto my Kindle E-reader.  I thought Iíd start with a short story A WAIF OF THE PLAINS which turned out to be a very long short story indeed in eleven chapters, practically a novella.  Harte, although born in Albany, New York, appears to have written mostly about the West (his most famous story is ĎThe Outcasts of Poker Flatí), pioneers and settlers, and ĎA Waif of the Plainsí would appear to be typical.  Its chief character is a boy of eleven, Clarence Brant, whom we first meet on a wagon-train heading towards California to meet his relations, accompanied by little girl, Susy. Clarence & Susy get separated from the train and get lost on the prarie.  The first part of the story tells of their adventures including confrontations with Indians and stampeding buffalo. Susy soon disappears from the story and we follow Clarence, who has many adventures in California, including gold-prospecting, until several years later, when heís fifteen the story has him re-meeting Susy.  I enjoyed ĎA Waif of the Plainsí very much. The prolific Harte is a vigorous and lively story-teller, just as good, I think, as Jack London who is more famous in Europe.  Harteís story is full of good scenes, well-drawn characters and plenty of humour, and itís very American.  As I read I could picture everything Harte described, and it seemed to me that ĎA Waif of the Plainsí would make an excellent film.  I think Harte is a neglected writer who deserves to be better known outside the USA.
Joe McWilliams

I confess the name means nothing to me, Mike. The only Bret Harte I know is a professional wrestler. Odd, because here in Canada we are pretty much saturated with American culture. Thank you for bringing Harte to our attention.

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