H. L. Davis Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although some of Harold Lenoir Davis’s writing presents locales such as North Carolina, Paris, or Natchez, most of his fiction is set in that region of the United States in which he was born and grew up—various parts of Oregon. The son of a country schoolteacher, Davis was born in the now-vanished community of Rone’s Mill on October 18, 1894. (The year 1896 has also been given, but the sources on which the latter date is based are now considered unreliable.) At that time, the American frontier and all it represented in the political, economic, and sociological patterns of American life was fast disappearing. This fact is important, for the passing of frontier life—its values, personal justice, and colorful people—forms the subject matter characteristically associated with Davis’s work.

In later life, perhaps because he believed that the public demanded adventuresome authenticity, Davis tended to exaggerate the frontier experiences of his childhood. The family did move often, however, allowing Davis a chance to observe many parts of Oregon and many types of characters. Davis spent some time as an unpaid printer’s helper at age twelve, and he herded sheep for a few weeks while living in Antelope, aspects of his experience which he later made much of. In 1908, the Davis family settled in The Dalles, Oregon, which would remain the home base of H. L. Davis until 1928. After graduating from high school in 1912, he became a deputy county assessor as well as a deputy sheriff, the latter position being largely honorary, contrary to later claims by Davis.

Davis visited Stanford University briefly and then, during 1918, served in the Army (not, however, as...

(The entire section is 688 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Harold Lenoir Davis was born in Nonpareil, Oregon, on October 18, 1894, or possibly 1896. Many of the details of Davis’s early years are confused by events that he fabricated in later accounts of his life. For example, he turned a few weeks of herding sheep when a youngster into a tale of a job as a cowpuncher; and he turned a short tenure as a military clerk into an adventure with the cavalry in pursuit of Pancho Villa. One can read psychological import into Davis’s romanticizing of his youth—perhaps he did so to compensate for his feelings of inadequacy among the elite writers of his day—but he might simply have been following the frontier tradition of duping outsiders with outlandish anecdotes and contradictory details of his life. Davis’s work is full of tall tales; his telling such tales about his life should not be surprising.

His parents were James Alexander Davis and Ruth Bridges Davis. Although James Davis had only one leg (the other having been lost in an accident in a sawmill when he was six years old), he was a vigorous man. He was a schoolteacher who taught in one-room schools and took on other jobs when he could in order to support a family that began with Harold and included three other boys. The Davis family moved from town to town in Oregon while James Davis moved from job to job, finally settling in The Dalles, where, in 1908, James was made principal of the high school.

James Davis had a taste for literature and wrote poetry. Even though H. L. Davis does not seem to have liked his father, James Davis inculcated in his son an interest in literature. Writing was initially a secondary interest for Davis. After working and saving money for college, he went, in 1917, to Stanford University with the hope of training to be an engineer. The school was too expensive, however, and he returned to The Dalles.

In 1918, Davis was drafted into the army and sent to Fort McDowell in California. He served as a clerk from September to December, 1918, at which time he was discharged. During 1918, he submitted poems to Poetry; they were published in 1919 and won for Davis a moderate recognition among other poets. He...

(The entire section is 885 words.)