Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Zodiac Cottage

Zodiac Cottage. Last home of Oliver Ward, the grandfather of Lyman Ward, a retired history professor who is constructing a narrative of his grandparents’ lives from documents and personal reminiscences. Located in Grass Valley, California, the cottage takes its name from the Zodiac Mine, which Oliver superintended in his later career. The cottage and its gardens resonate with the lives of Lyman’s grandparents and also serve as the stage for his painful recuperation from the amputation of a leg. Throughout the novel, which is threaded with Lyman’s first-person narration, the self-sufficiency of his virtual but self-imposed confinement to Zodiac Cottage is used as a counterpoint to Susan and Oliver Ward’s shifting domestic circumstances half a century earlier.

*New Almaden

*New Almaden. California community built near the New Almaden Mine, located about twelve miles by stage road from San Jose. Some weeks following their marriage, Susan Ward joins her husband at the New Almaden Mine, where he is employed as chief engineer. Susan expects her new home to be merely a cottage on a bare hill amid ugly mine buildings but instead finds a handsome, though modest, new house with a veranda. At the moment of her arrival she feels sensations about space and size that are emblematic of pioneers in the American West. Wallace Stegner knew the New Almaden region intimately, as he lived for many years not far from it, in Los Altos Hills.

A brief interlude set in the nearby coastal town of Santa Cruz provides Lyman Ward with one of several opportunities in the novel to remark upon the contemporary face of the landscape. As one who writes books and monographs about the frontier, Ward is well suited to contrast the physical and social environment of the present with that of the nineteenth century.


*Leadville. Colorado mining town located high in the Rocky Mountains, about eighty miles from Denver, near the headwaters of the Arkansas River. A note of adventure, even physical peril, is introduced to the novel by a vivid passage...

(The entire section is 870 words.)