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J A N H A R O L D B R U N V A N D University of Utah Honey in the Horn and “Acres of Clams”: The Regional Fiction of H. L. Davis H. L. Davis is not one of those writers of the West who “needs no introduction”—not even for readers and critics with a special­ ized interest in Western American literature. His literary star, which blazed so brightly some thirty years ago, faded quickly; thereafter, if he was ranked at all among Western authors, it was usually as an adroit sketcher of the natural scene or as the distant source of certain popular anthology pieces in prose or verse. To many aficionados of Western fiction Davis’ work has seemed to lack, say, the individual style of Rhodes’ fiction, or the universal themes of Clark’s, or the raw power of Fisher’s, or even the historical sig­ nificance of Harte’s or Wister’s. It is the modest purpose of this essay, first, to remind readers of Davis, and second, to identify some of the qualities of folk tradition in his fictional style—qualities which stamp it with a regional character but which may have ob­ scured the broader suggestions for many readers and thus have prevented Davis from being more widely appreciated. Born in 1895 in Yoncalla, Oregon, H. L. Davis emerged slowly as a writer from his very miscellaneous northwestern background to become finally a leading interpreter of the region. By the time he was forty, Davis had achieved promising national literary notice. Although his formal education had ended with a few months of 136 Western American Literature college, his practical education for regional authorship included work in Oregon and Washington herding sheep, punching cattle, driving a derrick-team for a haying crew, setting type and writing for newspapers (later editing a paper), acting as a deputy county assessor and deputy sheriff, working as a government surveyor, a bank clerk, an office employee of a light and power company, a timekeeper for a railroad track crew, a soldier in the First World War, and even a radio singer, with a repertoire that included, he said, “cleaned-up cowboy folk songs.”1 His writing began to appear when he was twenty-three years old; he won the Levinson Prize that year (1919) for the first of his numerous publications in Poetry. In 1928 H. L. Mencken dis­ covered Davis, encouraged him to turn to fiction, and began pub­ lishing his stories in the American Mercury. Soon he was selling stories to Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post, and with a Gug­ genheim fellowship in 1932 Davis went to Mexico to write Honey in the Horn, which was published as a Harper Prize Novel in 1935 and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1936. During the remaining twenty-four years of his life, although Davis’ literary production did not diminish either in quality or quantity, the popular audience for it dwindled, and critical atten­ tion was sporadic. After his poems were brought out in a collected edition in 1942 (Proud Riders, and Other Poems), Davis published his second novel, Harp of a Thousand Strings, in 1947. Team Bells Woke Me, and Other Stories appeared in 1953, followed by three more novels, Beulah Land (1949), Winds of Morning (1952), and The Distant Music (1957). Davis’ last book, Kettle of Fire (1959), was a collection of travel sketches written originally for Holiday magazine and now republished with the addition of an essay on Western fiction from The New York Times Book Review and the title story, an unusually symbolic one, which had been published earlier the same year in Northwest Review. Davis died in 1960. Throughout Davis’ life the only discussions of his works were infrequent articles and regular book reviews in a few journals although he was praised by Carl Sandburg, Walter Van Tilburg T o r this remark of Davis’ and for facts of his early life, see Alfred Powers, History of Oregon Literature (Portland, 1935), pp. 676-678. Davis’ Regional Fiction 137 Clark, A. B. Guthrie, Jr., Malcolm Cowley, and Oscar Lewis. Academic criticism of H. L. Davis began tentatively in 1952 with one...


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