By Arthur Edward Waite
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Now, I raised the price of “North Ophir” from $13 a foot to $45 a foot, to-day, & and they gave me ¤ve feet. That will go the way of all the rest. I shall probably mislay it or throw it in my trunk & never get a dollar out of it. (Letters 1: 259–60) Clemens’s possession of numerous mine “feet” provides the credit that makes him a relatively rich man, despite the fact that he has not yet taken the time to cash in on any of his stockholdings. Despite its likely exaggerations and rather cavalier tone, Clemens’s letter rather accurately indicates the degree to which Comstock fortunes were paper fortunes, banked on the speculative promise of soon-to-be-realized material wealth.
And the Gold Rush narrative is apologetic to the extent that most of its authors felt compelled to caution their readers with disclaimers regarding the frank description of dif¤cult or brutal conditions and a lack of “literary” qualities in the prose. Most importantly, Gold Rush authors relied on the realist’s strategy of invoking a crisis of representation. Positioning their own works as much-needed correctives to earlier, ostensibly inaccurate written versions of what “seeing the elephant” had been like, they issued a claim to realism that hinged most basically on the idea that someone, themselves, had ¤nally gotten it right.
With respect to Clappe, Delano, and Harte, the hoax depicts both the physical trauma of mining and the beginnings of the erasure of that trauma from narratives of value. The points on which the social, political, aesthetic, cultural, and eco- You are reading copyrighted material published by the University of Alabama Press. S. Copyright law is illegal and injures the author and publisher. For permission to reuse this work, contact the University of Alabama Press. 34 / Bret Harte and Gold Rush Realism nomic relations of Twain’s real-world setting are founded are also those on which Twain hangs his story.