Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

Although Walter D. Edmonds had published several short stories, ROME HAUL was his first novel, and it was quite successful with readers and critics. In an opening note, Edmonds describes the fun he had in writing it and how easily the writing progressed; however, he does not discuss the great...

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Although Walter D. Edmonds had published several short stories, ROME HAUL was his first novel, and it was quite successful with readers and critics. In an opening note, Edmonds describes the fun he had in writing it and how easily the writing progressed; however, he does not discuss the great amount of research he had done in preparation for this book.

There is a native tang and sharpness to this novel, which reclaims a segment of the American past in its picture of life along the Erie Canal. The book is vivid in its painstaking detail. The description of a flock of geese becomes more than description for pictorial effect; it becomes a symbol of the passing of a season and a passing of a way of life. There is poignancy and passion in the lives of people like Dan and Molly, Mrs. Gurget and Sol, and even Gentleman Joe Calash, who lived on the big ditch before the railroads destroyed its free, picturesque life.

Edmonds was already somewhat familiar with canal life, for he had lived in a small town on the Black Canal, and canal life had always fascinated him. When he left the area to go to Harvard, his memories of the canal remained with him. To authenticate his account of the Erie Canal, he scrupulously studied records, listened to canal legends, and talked to the boatmen. This careful and thorough research is reflected in the realistic and minute detail of scene and action in ROME HAUL. This is one of the strongest points of his writing, but he is also skilled in creating natural, vigorous dialogue which adds to the reality of the canal atmosphere.

Although Edmonds says that, in writing the book, he lost his earlier interest in the quaintness of the characters and began to see them as real people, a Dickensian touch remains—Dan Harrow is a farmer, Fortune Friendly is a would-be minister, and the enormously fat Mrs. Gurget, with her extreme fondness for rum noggins, immediately reminds one of the unforgettable Sairey Gamp of MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. Edmonds, however, does not rely as heavily on caricature as does Dickens.

The plot is the major weakness of the novel, for it is quite loose in spots. As a narrative, the structure is weak, a fault Edmonds corrects in his most famous novel, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK. Any lack of literary distinction in ROME HAUL, however, is amply compensated by the sense of lusty life within the novel.

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