The standout novel from 1904 is a novel whose title and author were both unknown to me: The Silent Places by Stewart Edward White.
The novel is an adventure set in the early 1700s when North America was a wilderness. Its laws were those of nature and the directors of the Hudson Bay Company.
The Company assigns two men to capture an Indian who skipped out without reimbursing the Company for payments advanced him. Sam is a seasoned woodsman with a keen mind; Dick is a less experienced woodsman with good instincts but duller mind.
White takes all the usual story lines and turns them inside out.
Here’s the older man’s summary of more than a year’s work:
“We went with old Haukemah’s band down as far as the Mattawishguia. There we left them and went up stream and over the divide. Dick here broke his leg and was laid up for near three months. I looked all that district over while he was getting well. Then we made winter travel down through the Kabinikágam country and looked her over. We got track of this Jingoss over near the hills, but he got wind of us and skipped when we was almost on top of him. We took his trail. He went straight north, trying to shake us off, and we got up into the barren country. We’d have lost him in the snow if it hadn’t been for that dog there. He could trail him through new snow. We run out of grub up there, and finally I gave out. Dick here pushed on alone and found the Injun wandering around snow-blind. He run onto some caribou about that time, too, and killed some. Then he came back and got me:—I had a little pemmican and boiled my moccasins. We had lots of meat, so we rested up a couple of weeks, and then came back.”
Dick’s mental and psychological growth is almost visible as the men push themselves to accomplish their task. Turning back is not an option either every considers.
By comparison to White’s novel, the other titles on the 1904 bestseller list seem puny, even though some of them are good entertainment.
An online literary biography says White was born in 1873 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His father, a lumberman, introduced his son to the outdoors and ornithology. In later years, Stewart was to work in other outdoor occupations, such as ranching and mining.
The younger White took a composition course during his undergraduate work in philosophy at University of Michigan. His prof encouraged him to write.
By the time he collected his diploma, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1895 he had been paid for his writing. Before he finished his M.A. at Columbia University in 1903, he had published three novels.
White was a prolific writer, and a versatile one. He wrote not only fiction, but travel, history, and children’s books. Late in life, he became interested in psychic phenomena and wrote a series of books on the spirit world.
He died in 1946.
Stewart Edward White is certainly an author I’ll look for again.
© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni