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American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class by Brian Roberts

By Brian Roberts

California in the course of the gold rush was once a spot of disputed claims, shoot-outs, playing halls, and prostitution; a spot populated by way of that tough and rebellious determine, the forty-niner; briefly, a spot that turns out completely unconnected to middle-class tradition. In American Alchemy, besides the fact that, Brian Roberts deals a shocking problem to this assumption.

Roberts issues to a long-neglected fact of the gold rush: a few of the northeastern forty-niners who ventured westward have been in truth middle-class in beginning, prestige, and values. Tracing the stories and adventures either one of those males and of the "unseen" forty-niners--women who stayed again East whereas their husbands went out West--he exhibits that, no matter what else the gold seekers deserted at the street to California, they didn't easily flip their backs on middle-class culture.

Ultimately, Roberts argues, the tale informed the following unearths an missed bankruptcy within the historical past of the formation of the center category. whereas the purchase of respectability displays one level during this historical past, he says, the gold rush constitutes a moment stage--a uprising opposed to criteria of respectability.

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Yet if these company rolls indicate that the gold rush was at least a cross-class phenomenon, the records of individuals who actually wrote about the event suggest the extent to which respectable types would frame the rush and its meanings. For among the men whose writings have been most frequently used by historians, middle-class professions predominate. This is certainly the case of the california gold and filthy lucre d 33 nearly 100 individuals whose letters, diaries, and recollective accounts constitute much of the evidence for this study.

Thinking of ‘‘how splendidly a diamond tiara would gleam in her sunny tresses,’’ Susan at last relents. But only, she avers, if she can go along with her husband. Here Rodman’s tale arrives at the climactic meeting point of opposite forces: George refuses to take his bride with him; Susan proclaims her intention of going anyway, as a missionary for the redemption of California’s immorality. Respectability and desires for wealth meet in hostile suspension; the Brendalls need money to confirm their status as a middle-class couple, yet neither their domestic security nor Susan’s femininity, we are led to conclude, will survive the vicissitudes of frontier life.

California’s gold, it claimed, lay in plain sight: ‘‘sparkling in the sun,’’ it ‘‘glittered’’ from the bottom of the region’s streams and ‘‘glowed’’ from the summits of its mountains. The rumor of California’s riches, once ‘‘indefinite and vague,’’ had now burst forth ‘‘like the sun . . through obscuring mists . . ’’∞≠ Many northeastern readers were already dazzled. During the first few months of 1849, references to California’s riches began appearing everywhere along the eastern seaboard. Advertisements headed by shouts of gold, meanwhile, were used for pills, cure-alls, sarsaparilla, just about anything.

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