Frank Norris, who was born on this day in 1870 in Chicago made his way westward and became the quintessential California author. His major work McTeague is still taught in university classes there as a example of early 20th century literature. Who told me that? The bartender at McTeague’s Saloon in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. “If you study any kind of California literature, you run across Frank Norris,” he said during a smoking break outside the pub as we stood under the giant gold tooth sign.
Few readers today know about McTeague but film versions were made of the novel. The story about McTeague, the scheming dentist who longed more than anything to have a bright gold tooth sign hanging outside his storefront window, is a dark tale. But before its descent into darkness and murder and betrayal, McTeague is a story about early San Francisco and the people who lived and worked there, particularly in the rough and tumble Tenderloin District.
The setting portrays the early days of San Francisco, places that are still visible today.
“Of late it had become the custom of the two friends to take long walks from time to time. On holidays and on those Sunday afternoons when Marcus was not absent with the Sieppes they went out together, sometimes to the park, sometimes to the Presidio, sometimes even across the bay. They took a great pleasure in each other’s company, but silently and with reservation, having the masculine horror of any demonstration of friendship.
They walked for upwards of five hours that afternoon, out the length of California Street, and across the Presidio Reservation to the Golden Gate. Then they turned, and, following the line of the shore, brought up at the Cliff House.”