Tournament of Short Stories: Bret Harte vs. D.H. Lawrence and Leo Tolstoy

This little tournament has force me to read the volume of Bret Harte’s Gold Rush era short fiction C.J. and I bought a few years back while visiting Nevada City, California.  I’ve enjoyed them.  They are old-fashioned stories.  Mr. Harte does have fine characters but the plot is really where it’s at with his work.  I’ve enjoyed them all and I enjoyed the two I read for this round.

But few people can stand up to D.H. Lawrence and far as I’m concerned.  His story “Samson and Delilah” is a familiar one.  A strange man appears at a small inn one night.  He claims to be the long missing husband of the woman who owns the establishment.  She insist she has never seen him before.  Sounds like something Thomas Hardy would write.

But Hardy was never this hot. D.H. Lawrence is one hot writer.

There’s no sex in this story, not even a hint of it.  But the closing seen which feature the inn-keeper and the strange man alone after hours while she prepares a meal is simply, frankly, hot.  I kept reading thinking the two would leap on each other at any moment.  She fears he’ll take her income away from her, he was never a good husband, and she’s right to.  He is unsure what his position is now that his wife has become a success after so many years. But in spite of everything, there is still an attraction between the two.

The reader can feel it.

This is just something Bret Harte cannot pull off.  I don’t think he was ever interested in trying, to be honest.

Leo Tolstoy’s story “The Porcelain Doll” was good, but D.H. Lawrence was the reason why Randall Jarrell’s Book of Stories won this round.

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2 Comments

  1. lauratfrey says:

    I was antiquing today and bought a beautiful Franklin edition of four DH Lawrence novellas, including this one, because of your review. It *better* be hot, haha!

    1. Four! I’ll be at least three of them have a “hot” chapter or two. Glad to hear I’ve led someone to Lawrence. My work is done.

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