- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Heyday; Reprint edition (January 1, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1890771007
- ISBN-13: 978-1890771003
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 25 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Shirley Letters from the California Mines, 1851-1852 Paperback – January 1, 1998
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''Of all the writers drawn to California between 1845 and the mid-1860s, [Clappe] speaks with the most original voice. Her only real competition, in my view, is Mark Twain.''--James D. Houston, author, Californians: Searching for the Golden State
''The Shirley Letters is superb reading!'' --The Midwest Book Review
From the Publisher
A California Legacy book.
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I'm loving the book too. The author's first-person voice, in letters she actually sent to her sister back home in Massachusetts in 1851-52, is self-deprecating, open-minded about her adopted world (natural beauty, primitive living conditions, rough human company), and often witty: the local gourmet chef's hair is "frizzled to the most intense degree of corkscrewity." She does occasionally lapse into the stilted syntax of her era but more often writes direct, lively sentences.
The subject matter is also irresistible: a portrait of gold-mad 1851 San Francisco at first, midway in time between the two views (1830s and 1870s) Richard Henry Dana gives us in _Two Years Before the Mast_, and then the trek into the Sierras and life in gold-mining territory at the height of the Gold Rush.
The lengthy front matter in the eBook tells us more about the author, whose real name was Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe: married to a doctor who sought work in the Sierras for health reasons and to seek fortune, a celebrity once her letters appeared in print in 1854-55, and later a schoolteacher in San Francisco and mentor to young writers, notably Bret Harte, at least two of whose best-known stories appear to have been drawn from Clappe's book.
In 1849 Dame Shirley left Massachusetts to follow her husband, a doctor, to the mining camps. Her letters to her sister detail her experiences in the camps and later in San Francisco. She spares no detail in describing the rugged but beautiful West, the problems of crime and resulting whippings and hangings, the problems between whites and the Indians and immigrants, her simple cabin, and her efforts to establish gracious living in the wilds. As I read her letters I can't ignore the obvious: Dame Shirley loved to write, found joy in describing her new life in the Wild West, and exulted in the raw beauty of unspoiled creation. Her writing is energetic and lively, a great resource for anyone who desires to write about daily living during the Gold Rush period.
The Shirley Letters include a very informative introduction and illustrations (reprints) of mining country scenes of that era, particularly the camps around the Feather River.
One note: I started reading from the beginning and was like, "What? These aren't letters." The book begins with a VERY long essay *about* the letters, not with the letters themselves. I thought maybe I had mistakenly downloaded a scholarly study of the letters. Turns out you just have to skip WAY ahead before getting to Dame Shirley's correspondence with her sister.
(Also, the letters are a lot more fun and evocative if you imagine them in the voice of Alma Garrett from Deadwood. Trust me.)
This is one of my favorite histories and "Dame Shirley's" writing is exceptional. Her early years and schooling in New England gave her a love of putting pen on paper.. How fortunate we are to have these letters written first hand by a women living in the raw gold mining world of 1851 and 1852 California.