Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/107

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89
The Later Historical Romance

Rome better than any other section of society, and really minute knowledge came, as it did not always in his stories of America, for instance, and almost never did in his historical tales, to the aid of his invariable qualities of movement and lucidity and large general knowledge of life. If in this admirable cycle, which is to Crawford’s total work much what the Leather-Stocking cycle is to Cooper’s, Crawford actually achieved less than Cooper, it is to some extent for the reason that some cosmopolitanism finds it even harder than does some provincialism to impart to fiction true depth and body; that reality, like charity, often begins at home.

In the eighties realism was the dominant creed in fiction, which in practice followed its creed somewhat closely, with exceptions, of course, among the purely popular novelists like Roe and General Wallace. The same decade, however, saw the beginnings of two movements which became marked in the nineties, both of them natural outcomes of the official realism of Howells and James. One led, by reaction, to the rococo type of historical romance which flourished enormously at the end of the century; and the other to the harsher naturalism which shook off the decorums of the first realists, contended with the historical romancers, first succumbed to them, and then succeeded them in power and favour. The historical tendency, less than the naturalistic a matter of doctrine, came at first from the South and West: from writers who painted the amiable colours of antebellum plantation life—Cable, Page, Joel Chandler Harris; or from California, from writers who tried to catch the charm of old Spanish days—Bret Harte and Helen Hunt Jackson; or from the Mississippi Valley, from writers who, thanks to Parkman, had discovered the richness and variety of the French règime there—Constance Fenimore Woolson and Mary Hartwell Catherwood. Of all these Mrs. Jackson wrote perhaps the best single romance in Ramona (1884), a story aimed to carry forward an indictment, already begun in the same author’s A Century of Dishonor (1881), against the treatment of the Indians by their white conquerors. Ramona, however, and her Temecula husband Alessandro have so little Indian blood that their wrongs seem less those of Indians than the wrongs which all the older Californians, Indian or Spanish, suffered from the predacious