The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature

Penguin Pr. Mar. 2014. 336p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781594204739. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698151628. LIT
San Francisco-based Tarnoff (A Counterfeiter's Paradise) chronicles the lives of four American writers—a young Mark Twain falls in with rising literary star Bret Harte, poet Charles Stoddard, and dark poetess Ina Coolbirth—living in the Bay Area from the early 1860s to 1878, a tumultuous time of boom and bust. Together, these "so-called Bohemians" carouse, chase fame, and heavily influence one another's work. Harte eventually takes on a mentorship role, becomes editor of The Overland, but ultimately his self-absorbed personality effectively dissolves the group. In the book's first half, Tarnoff successfully paints a grand portrait of San Francisco, bringing to life the friendship and rivalry of the writers. While the latter half of this title lacks the spirit infused into its beginning, Tarnoff describes admirably Twain's growth following his departure from the West Coast and his courtship of Olivia Langdon. Particular attention is paid to Twain's evolution from story writer to star author, with his publication of The Innocents Abroad in 1869.
VERDICT Readers hoping for a work wholly dedicated to the writers living in San Francisco during the period may be somewhat disappointed, as two of the four are not in the city for half of the years covered in the book. Recommended for fans of the authors, particularly Harte and Twain, and readers of American history, biography, and American literary history. [See Prepub Alert, 10/1/13.]
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