Ben Tarnoff discusses his new book The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature.
The Bohemians begins in 1860s San Francisco. The Gold Rush has ended; the Civil War threatens to tear apart the country. Far away from the frontlines, the city at the Western edge roars. A global seaport, home to immigrants from five continents, San Francisco had become a complex urban society virtually overnight.
The Bohemian moment would continue in Boston, New York, and London, and would achieve immortality in the writings of its hero, Mark Twain. It’s Twain’s masterworks that prove the lessons of the San Francisco days—in vernacular, humor, and the magic alchemy of the high-low mix—invaluable and enduring. At once an intimate portrait of an eclectic, unforgettable group of writers, and a history of an aesthetic shift in American letters, The Bohemians reveals how a brief moment at the country’s borders changed our literature forever.