Thursday, February 24, 2011

On "A Protegee of Jack Hamlin's" by Bret Harte (10,943 words) ****

Jack Hamlin is a little sketchy. He's a gambler. But his heart is in the right place. Such is a common character in Harte's fiction. John Oakhurst is another such character. But while Oakhurst is almost wholly good, donating excess winnings to charity and not taking from losers who can't afford to lose, Hamlin isn't a completely white knight. He's concerned about his reputation (as well as others' reputations). And he likes to do a little sleeping around when it's convenient.

So enter a woman that Jack meets on a boat. She's fallen for an unsavory guy who has abandoned her. Jack is here to save her, which he does--sending her to school, setting her up in the arts. But he's still Jack, and he's a bit scared that this woman's reputation will be ruined, as well as his own. So he leads a double life. And it is that double life that makes this story one of Harte's better ones. Harte, here, focuses on surfaces and on reputations, the way that those often mean more than substance. I'm reminded of contemporary politics, how a few great soundbites often triumph over substantive debate and informed decision making. Read about other such disappoints by reading Harte's old story here.

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