Jack London and a 19th-century shipwreck

This article about the rediscovery of the wreck of the Chester,  which sank in 1888 near the Golden Gate Bridge, calls to mind Jack London’s The Sea Wolf:

Here’s what happened: The City of Chester — a passenger steamer built in 1875, according to the California State Lands Commission’s shipwreck database — departed San Francisco in a dense fog on the morning of Aug. 22, 1888. The ship was heading for Eureka, Calif., a town about 270 miles up the state’s coast, when it collided with the Oceanic, a much larger steamer.

“Collided” may be too gentle a term for this, actually. The Chester “was rammed in mid-channel” by the Oceanic, a ship about twice as long as the Chester, according to Michael D. White’s book “Shipwrecks of the California Coast.”

“The City of Chester was cut almost into halves and reeled under the terrible blow,” The Day (of New London, Conn.) wrote in its evening edition the following day, noting that the Chester sunk in a matter of minutes.

From The Sea Wolf:

The vessels came together before I could follow his advice.  We must have been struck squarely amidships, for I saw nothing, the strange steamboat having passed beyond my line of vision.  The Martinez heeled over, sharply, and there was a crashing and rending of timber.  I was thrown flat on the wet deck, and before I could scramble to my feet I heard the scream of the women.  This it was, I am certain,—the most indescribable of blood-curdling sounds,—that threw me into a panic.  I remembered the life-preservers stored in the cabin, but was met at the door and swept backward by a wild rush of men and women.  What happened in the next few minutes I do not recollect, though I have a clear remembrance of pulling down life-preservers from the overhead racks, while the red-faced man fastened them about the bodies of an hysterical group of women.  This memory is as distinct and sharp as that of any picture I have seen.  It is a picture, and I can see it now,—the jagged edges of the hole in the side of the cabin, through which the grey fog swirled and eddied; the empty upholstered seats, littered with all the evidences of sudden flight, such as packages, hand satchels, umbrellas, and wraps; the stout gentleman who had been reading my essay, encased in cork and canvas, the magazine still in his hand, and asking me with monotonous insistence if I thought there was any danger; the red-faced man, stumping gallantly around on his artificial legs and buckling life-preservers on all comers; and finally, the screaming bedlam of women.

. . .

I descended to the lower deck.  The Martinez was sinking fast, for the water was very near.  Numbers of the passengers were leaping overboard.  Others, in the water, were clamouring to be taken aboard again.  No one heeded them.  A cry arose that we were sinking.  I was seized by the consequent panic, and went over the side in a surge of bodies.  How I went over I do not know, though I did know, and instantly, why those in the water were so desirous of getting back on the steamer.  The water was cold—so cold that it was painful.  The pang, as I plunged into it, was as quick and sharp as that of fire.  It bit to the marrow.  It was like the grip of death.  I gasped with the anguish and shock of it, filling my lungs before the life-preserver popped me to the surface.  The taste of the salt was strong in my mouth, and I was strangling with the acrid stuff in my throat and lungs.

Preliminary Questions in Preparing a Dissertation or Book Proposal

For our English 573, American Moderns, class today.

Preliminary Questions in Preparing a Dissertation or Book Proposal

1. In a sentence or two, what’s the overall argument of this project? What’s the main point that you’re trying to make? (Think about this: how would you describe what you’re doing if you were talking on an elevator with someone for about 2 minutes?)

2. What one author or idea does this project absolutely have to include, and why?

3. What’s the gap in the scholarship that you’re trying to fill by writing about it? What are you saying that others haven’t talked about yet?

4. Why is it important?  (This is the “so what?” question that editors talk about.)

5. What other authors or topics are you planning to include, and why?

6. What’s the most exciting part of this project for you, or what fascinates you about this topic?

7. Is there anything you’ve written that can be incorporated into this project already?

8. Is there anything you’d like to include in this project but probably aren’t going to be able to include because of time, resources, etc.?

9. What theoretical framework(s) do you anticipate being most useful to you as you move forward with the project?

10. What critical works do you admire and might you consider as a model or template for your study?

Stephen Crane Panels at ALA 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Session 10-B Culture and Context in Stephen Crane’s Work
12:40-2:00 p.m. 
Organized by the Stephen Crane Society

Chair: Paul Sorrentino, Virginia Tech

1. “Creative Destruction: Conflagration, The Newspaper Sketch, and Stephen Crane’s ‘The Monster,’”
Jennifer Travis, St. John’s University
2. “Tommie’s Resurrection: The Role of the Impoverished Child in Stephen Crane’s New York
Sketches,” Maggie Morris Davis, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
3. “Re-reading the Animals in Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage,” Qizhi Shu, Xiangtan

Session 12-K Business Meeting: Crane Society
University/University of North Carolina, Wilmington

Session 11-H Culture and Context in Stephen Crane’s Work
2:10-3:30 p.m. 
Organized by the Stephen Crane Society

Chair: Benjamin F. Fisher, University of Mississippi

1. “’A Spector of Reproach’: Revisiting Figures of Shame in The Red Badge of Courage,” Keiko Nitta,
Rikkyo University/Yale University
2. “Stephen Crane’s Literary Journalism and the Limits of Liberalism in the Progressive Era,” Clemens
Spahr, Mainz University
3. “Structures of Feeling within Stephen Crane’s ‘The Blue Hotel,’” Robert Welch, Indiana University of

Session 12-K Business Meeting: Crane Society

3:40-5:00 p.m. 

New Whitman Digital Resource: Letters from his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman


   Wesley Raabe, an assistant professor in the Department of English at Kent State University, has edited the letters of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, mother of the poet Walt Whitman. Her 170 letters and a new introduction have been published under the title “walter dear”: The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt on the Walt Whitman Archive, and they are now freely available to scholars and to the general public.

   The newly published letters feature digital facsimiles, authoritative transcriptions, dating, and annotation, and integration with Walt’s and other family members’ letters in the Whitman Archive section entitled “Correspondence.” Scholars for the first time will be able to read Walt Whitman’s letters alongside the replies of his mother, who was by far his most frequent correspondent. The edition also includes a new introduction with a biography. The letters and the introduction are online at http://www.whitmanarchive.org/biography/correspondence/index.html


   Walt Whitman described his mother as “illiterate in the formal sense,” but he also proclaimed his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, to be the “flower of her temperament active in me.” Louisa’s letters illuminate the most important relationship in the poet’s life and offer a rare glimpse into the emotional life of a working-class nineteenth-century American woman. Though she lacked formal education, her letters display verbal power and expressiveness, offering insight into the “family usages” that shaped Walt Whitman’s poetry.  


   The letters from Louisa Whitman to Walt span the period from just before the outbreak of the Civil War through a week before her death in May 1873. Her letters helped bind the Whitman family together during the disruptive years of the Civil War and early Reconstruction. The letters to Walt treat mundane everyday life and moments of great family sorrow, and they make incisive observations on Walt’s growing critical reputation and offer curt dismissals of lesser writers.

Edith Wharton Collection at the Beinecke Library to close temporarily beginning in April 2014

From Gary Totten: 

Various Archival Collections to Close Temporarily Beginning in April 2014

Beginning in April 2014, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library will temporarily close various archival collections in preparation for a major building renovation scheduled to start in May 2015. In general, collections that are temporarily closed will be unavailable for six to eight weeks.

Researchers planning to visit the Beinecke should consult the library’s closed collections schedule beforehand to confirm the availability of desired materials. The schedule is currently subject to change, so researchers should check it frequently as they plan their visits.

Over the next year, the library will transfer about 12,000 cartons of collection material to an offsite shelving facility. This work requires the temporary closing of many of the library’s most important and frequently consulted archival collections. While temporarily closed, the collections will be unavailable for consultation in the reading room, classrooms, or for reproduction requests.

The temporary closings will be staggered throughout the year. Among collections slated to close in the spring of 2014 are the papers of Thornton Wilder, Eugene O’Neill, H.D., Langston Hughes, James Weldon and Grace Nail Johnson, and Edith Wharton. Collections to close in the fall of 2014 include the papers of Mable Dodge Luhan, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Variety review of 1918 film of The House of Mirth: “A distinctly rotten mess, well produced”


Katherine Harris Barrymore, the Lily Bart of this film, from http://aestheteslament.blogspot.com/2012/01/well-said-lily-bart.html

As part of my current book project, Bitter Tastes: Naturalism, Early Film, and American Women’s Writing, I’ve been working with a lot of silent film resources, including reviews, in addition to writing more about Wharton.

Here’s a gem from Variety, August 23, 1918: a review of a  now-lost film adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth.  Excerpts:

It has been scenarioized by June Mathis for Metro, directed by Albert Capellani, photographed by Eugene Gaudio, all of it with rare excellence for the respective efforts, but the layout  is not a good one for a feature picture for the reason that the majority of the principals are a rotten set, not worth wasting time over, especially as none of them get their just desserts.  . . . And so on, etc., until you are led to believe that no one is on the level and it develops that everybody has the goods on everybody else.

At the middle of the fifth reel the aunt having died and left the girl penniless, she seeks work, doesn’t find it, she tries suicide and is rescued in time for a clinch with the lawyer.  The remainder of the cast are left to continue their incessant prowling for affairs with those of the opposite sex. 

A distinctly rotten mess, well produced. 

This was clearly an A-list production. June Mathis was a talented scenarist, famous for discovering Rudolph Valentino, and the French director Albert Capellani directed such notable films as Camille and The Red Lantern

Since Selden (“the lawyer”) arrives in time for a clinch rather than too late, the production delivered what W. D. Howells told her the American public always wanted to see: “a tragedy with a happy ending.” Also of interest to Wharton fans: the cast list includes “Bertha Trenor-Dorset” and “Augustus Trenor-Dorset,” a neat conflation of the Bertha and George Dorset and Judy and Gus Trenor of the novel.

“Rotten mess” though it might have been, it’s too bad that this is a lost film. Wharton would have been pleased, though, that Jolo, the reviewer for Variety, understood the “despicable” nature of the society she described.