The Spoilers (Rex Beach, 1905)

In the Alaskan gold rush, McNamara exploits a feeble-minded judge and corrupt local politicians to steal all the valuable claims on the Midas River. Glenister, one of the aggrieved miners, is in love with Helen, the Judge’s niece. Helen is engaged to McNamara, not knowing anything about the conspiracy and not doubting his or her uncle’s integrity.

The miners assemble and most are in favor of lynching the Judge and McNamara and taking their mines back. Helen, new to the North, abhors violence, and so Glenister tries to reason with them to go through the courts. But with each appeal, it would seem all the region’s legal system is in McNamara’s pocket, and the Judge openly defies federal orders. Winter is coming and the seas are treacherous, but one man braves them to get to San Francisco for an arrest warrant.

Helen grows suspicious and tries to secure incriminating documents to help the miners, particularly Glenister, who she’s fallen in love with. After she’s nearly raped by one of McNamara’s men, she also amends he stance on non-violence. Some people just need killin’. Glenister, at the end of his rope, decides to go into town and take care of McNamara with his bare hands.

McNamara is beaten to within a hair’s breadth of death and a mob is out for the other conspirators, but it’s only a moral victory for the miners as they’re surely all going to prison. Just then, the man returns from San Francisco with warrants for the arrest of the Judge and McNamara and writs vindicating the miners.

Having seen this parodied in The Soilers (1923), I expected the fight scene to be longer. To be fair, I suppose it is a whole chapter and it is super violent, but I guess I was expecting something more cartoonish.

Inscriptions: signed Emma I Walker on the front flyleaf. At the start of the chapter “Wherein a Trap is Baited”, there’s a grocery delivery receipt apparently used as a bookmark. On 8/10/45, Emma bought two bushels of cabbage, seven buckets of tomatoes, and five bushels of carrots. No one may say that the Walkers didn’t eat their vegetables.

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Gil Blas (Alain-RenĂ© Lesage, 1715, 1724, 1735)

When I started reading this, I was jotting down quick plot notes for this summary, but it didn’t take long before I realized that was a fool’s errand. The book is well over a thousand pages long, and while it generally follows the adventures of our protagonist Gil Blas, it’s really a collection of short stories, each lasting maybe a few chapters. Knowing that does make it somewhat less daunting, though, since you can put it down, take a break, and pick it up a few weeks or a month later with a new story.

Gil Blas, born of humble roots in Santillana, Spain, sets out at seventeen to make his fortune. At one extreme, he’s robbed, he’s imprisoned, he’s enslaved; and at the other point, he’s the favorite of the Prime Minister and almost personally has the King’s ear. He swings continually from high to low. At the story’s close, he’s a nobleman endowed with a handsome income, wed to a beautiful young woman, living in his peaceful country estate, far from the intrigues of court or the dangers of the highway.

Inscription: There’s something written on the flyleaf, but the ink has rusted and it’s very hard to read. “The Halecicir”, maybe? Or “The Helecivir”? Something like that. I’m sure about the capital H, the two Is, and the final R at least.