Wednesday, February 08, 2006

1905 novel depicting Maine's 'degeneracy' ruffled feathers

From the Bangor Daily News:

Everyone familiar with New England history knows that the Brahmins lived in Boston and the barbarians lived in Maine going way back to the 1600s. Sometimes the conflict between the two tribes resurfaced. Born in Massachusetts, Wasson associated with the Brahmin establishment even though he lived over the border in Kittery. He stepped forth in 1905 to tell the world just how low Maine had sunk.

"The Green Shay" described the results of the decline of the coastal shipping economy in the mythical town of Kentle's Harbor, where there had been "a most alarming exodus of the young and strong, and an equally alarming stay at home propensity on the part of the weak and worthless. It is natural selection the other end to - the survival of the unfittest." The result, Wasson discovered, was drunkenness, immorality, illiteracy and poverty. The population of fishermen who remained was sprinkled through with small-time crooks who robbed fishing gear and looted shipwrecks to pad their meager living.

. . .

Even though William Dean Howells, the famous author and editor and Wasson's neighbor at Kittery, had declared "The Green Shay" was right on target in its portrayal of "rural degeneracy," that didn't impress the editor of the Bangor Daily News, who seemed to be as upset with Hartt's appraisal in New England Magazine as with Wasson's book. "No man in his straight senses believes any such a thing," he declared vehemently. "As near as we can divine the motive for printing such a tale [Hartt's article], we think it was sent out in the hope of making a sale for a few copies of this libelous novel."

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