The One Fair Woman by Joaquin Miller

It is (Mostly) All Here

But just what is it?

We now have the whole of The One Fair Woman edited for obvious typos. We have yet to find and incorporate alternative sources for all the undecipherable sections in my source material but the bulk of the story is plain enough.

So what do I think about this book? It's a classic case of Mrs. Murphy's chowder, a stew with anything and everything thrown into the mix. Which confirms Miller's status as a natural talent with little or no discipline. Part of the book is an interesting travelogue describing what an American visitor to Italy in the 1870's would see. Some of it is a self portrait. Joaquin Miller borrowed his first name from Joaquin Murietta, a notorious Mexican bandit from his California days so the protagonist of this book is "Murietta." The portion concerning Mollie Wopsus and her family is a light hearted comedy. The parts about the Countess Edna are straight up Victorian Melodrama. And the one fair woman of the title is a bit part at best. Any one of these elements, if fleshed out could make a good and interesting book, but all mixed together as they are, the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

As it is, it works best as travel writing which is colorful and amusing and perhaps fairly accurate. Some of the humourous passages are funny and the melodrama is no worse than many of its contemporaries. But it is frustrating because it could have been so much better with just a little more effort. By the end of the book the admiral has become a fairly interesting character but Miller never takes the time to flesh out his characters. Every time the admiral appears he has a big chin and says "I am a rough but honest sailor with my heart in my hand." One or two times, this would be ok but that, and little else, for the whole length of a book is just too lazy. It is this way with most of the other characters, almost like a play where each character wears a carved mask which indicates their part while never changing expression.

And then at the beginning of chapter 35 Miller offers this:
"It is very hard indeed to write a romance altogether out of facts. The facts refuse all the time to adjust themselves. They are all the time in the way. The unimportant facts refuse to lie down and lie still and be passed over as they should be, and the important ones often stand up tall and white and cold, and ghostly as if they had just risen from a grave yard, and did not want to be disurbed.
And then these dull scenes all want to be described so minutely. They keep inroducing themselves and sitting down before you like Italian models, ever falling in position as they sit, and saying all the time, 'I am So-and-so, and not This-and-this.'
People, too, are tiresome. These real people are hard to handle. They are not exactly what you want. They someimes persist in being intolerably dull and uninteresting, yet all the time and withal they will insist on being put down just precisely as they appeared, and will determinedly insist all the time in saying exactly the same stupid things they said on the occasion described without one redeeming variation. Better to break up your work root and branch, scatter it to the four winds, and begin with stage, scene, actors, —all from your own brain."

This aside from the author to the audience is another random bit tossed into the stew. There is nothing else like it in the rest of the book and it does not seem to indicate any change in the story or its manner of presentation going forward.

I get the impression that Miller never rewrites anything. The moving hand writes, and having writ, moves on. Inconsistencies get glossed over or ignored. What about the ammunition and the body under the palace? What about Countess Edna's brother?

I have not found any information on The One Fair Woman's sales or contemorary reception except for one review in an English paper which was lukewarm at best.

So in balance, here is Miller's attempt to break out of being a regional writer of gold camp fables into being a mainstream writer. It is not a complete failure. Some bits are interesting and a few are even good. But he desperately needed a concerned editor to refine a panful of black sand with trace of color into something valuable in the wider world.

Meanwhile anyone who wants to judge for themselves can read what we have so far, Here.