Mary Hallock Foote Criticism - Essay

Wallace Stegner (essay date 1958)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mary Hallock Foote: How the Pump Stopped at the Morning Watch,” in Selected American Prose, 1841-1900: The Realistic Movement, edited by Wallace Stegner, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1958, pp. 116-19.

[In the following essay from his collection of American realistic stories, Stegner provides an introduction to Foote's short story, “How the Pump Stopped at the Morning Watch,” with particular attention to Foote's sources.]

Editor's Note: Mary Hallock Foote was both writer and illustrator, and the fact that her husband, Arthur Foote, was a mining engineer gave her unprecedented opportunities to observe at first hand the life of a series of mining camps in the West: New Almaden, in California; Leadville, in Colorado; Boise and Coeur d'Alene, in Idaho; and finally Grass Valley, in the Sierra Nevada. Her writings reflect all of them—the only serious writing after Bret Harte to deal with mining-camp society, and virtually the only serious fiction which has dealt with the camps from intimate knowledge.

The present story was published in Century Magazine in June, 1899, but I saw it first in a typed, hand-sewn, and hand-bound copy which Mrs. Foote had made as an intimate childhood gift for her granddaughter, Mrs. Tyler Micoleau of Grass Valley. It was written sometime between October, 1896, and its publication date in 1899, and is included in this collection partly because it is one of Mrs. Foote's better stories, and shorter than most; and partly because, in the Foote papers now in the Stanford University Library, there are three letters to Helena DeKay Gilder which indicate part of the process by which mining-camp fact was transmuted into fiction. The letters reveal Mrs. Foote's painstaking intention to get the facts right—to deal fairly with the real life of the mines—and also her concern to get behind the facts to what she called the “human element,” the significance of facts for people, the meaning of events in human terms.

The first of the three letters, for which I am indebted to Mr. George McMurry, is dated from Grass Valley, October 16, 1896. It speaks of Mrs. Foote's difficulty in getting the “feel” of this new place, so “stern and concentrated,” so different from the raw newness of Idaho, from which she had just come. Then it summarizes what would later become the central incident of “How the Pump Stopped”:

There was a tragedy in the mine the other day. John Thomas, an Englishman, who had been pump-man at the North Star for many years, was killed in the shaft. The first I knew of it Clemmo, the gardener, came to the kitchen door asking for an umbrella: “Any old one will do.” Then he explained that the pump-man had been hurt and he wanted the umbrella to hold over him as they were carrying him home. I made the useless enquiries that one makes, and the useless offers: then I saw them carrying the old man by the house, on a mattress, six men, and Clemmo holding the umbrella over the head. His arms were bare to the elbow and crossed on his breast, and white in the sun as bleached bones—His head was wrapped in something...

(The entire section is 1310 words.)

James H. Maguire (essay date 1972)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of A Victorian Gentlewomen in the Far West: The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote, in Western American Literature, 1972, pp. 81-3.

[In the following essay, Maguire reviews Rodman W. Paul's edited version of Foote's reminiscences, A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West.]

Most of us hope that the writers of our region can find some way to escape from the burden of all the debased myths of the West created and nurtured in pulp fiction, on T.V., and in the movies. Perhaps unconsciously we fear that the myths might be true, that the early West might have been after all that land of good guys and bad guys, of Injuns and cowboys, of melodrama and...

(The entire section is 872 words.)

Lee Ann Johnson (essay date 1980)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Apprenticeship: New Almaden and Santa Cruz,” in Mary Hallock Foote, Twayne Publishers, 1980, pp. 27-37, 49-55, 79-84, 117-23, 155-58.

[In the following excerpts from her full-length biographical and critical study of Foote, Johnson discusses the ways in which Foote's life in the West influenced her early writing; evaluates her first novel The Led-Horse Claim, her more mature novels The Chosen Valley and The Desert and the Sown, and her historical romance The Royal Americans; and provides an overall assessment of Foote's importance in American literary history.]



(The entire section is 15041 words.)

Mary Ellen Williams Walsh (essay date 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Angle of Repose and the Writings of Mary Hallock Foote: A Source Study,” in Critical Essays on Wallace Stegner, edited by Anthony Arthur, G. K. Hall & Co., 1982, pp. 184-209.

[In the following essay, Walsh attempts to clarify to what extent Wallace Stegner borrowed material from Foote for his 1971 novel Angle of Repose and examines the ways in which Foote's actual life was distorted by its fictional representation in Stegner's book.]

In Angle of Repose, Lyman Ward sits at his desk in Grass Valley, California, surrounded by the papers of his grandmother, Susan Burling Ward, using the papers to write a kind of biography of Susan and...

(The entire section is 11443 words.)

Shelley Armitage (essay date 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Illustrator as Writer: Mary Hallock Foote and the Myth of the West,” in Under the Sun: Myth and Realism in Western American Literature, edited by Barbara Howard Meldrum, The Whitston Publishing Company, 1985, pp. 151-66.

[In the following essay, Armitage draws on Richard Slotkin's concept of subliterary myth-making to show how Foote's stories of the West grew from her realistic illustrations of the region and explored the ambiguities inherent in Western life, especially for women.]

In Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860, Richard Slotkin reasserts the idea that the genesis of myth is essentially...

(The entire section is 5739 words.)

Janet Floyd (essay date 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mining the West: Bret Harte and Mary Hallock Foote,” in Soft Canons: American Women Writers and Masculine Tradition, edited by Karen L. Kilcup, University of Iowa Press, 1999, pp. 202-18.

[In the following essay, Floyd places both Foote and Bret Harte in the context of newer critical perspectives which question old stereotypes about the way writers have dealt with the tug-and-pull between East and West.]

The category “Western writing” is a slippery one, and the exercise of forming and reforming a Western canon has become relatively obscure in the larger context of recent critical considerations of regionalism. Yet, even against a background where...

(The entire section is 6333 words.)