Biography of Bret Harte

Bret Harte was an American author who is often credited as one of the early pioneers of the local-color movement in American fiction, which emphasized the dialect, folklore, and often nostalgia of a certain region or bygone era, much like the regionalism movement that would follow World War II. Born in Albany, New York, Harte grew up in Brooklyn, where he had only an intermittent education. Nonetheless, he loved reading and writing, and published his first poem at the age of 11.

Like his future collaborator, Mark Twain, Harte frequently contributed to newspapers like the Northern Californian and Atlantic Monthly, often publishing his progressive ideas about race and tolerance in America only to meet public consternation. In 1860, for example, he published an opinion piece in the Northern Californian criticizing a recent massacre of Native Americans. The piece was so unpopular that he had to leave town. Indeed, his role as an outsider in such cases ties into the themes of unjust exile present in stories like "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," which he published in the Overland Monthly in 1869.

By 1871, Harte had gained the praise of contemporaries Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Buoyed by his ever-growing fame, Harte began lecturing, but was not warmly received. He then accepted consulships in Germany and Scotland, eventually retiring to London, where he died in 1902. In London, he eventually found a warmer critical reception for his tales of a mythic California.

Study Guides on Works by Bret Harte