Will Harben (1858-1919)
William Nathaniel Harben Dalton. Harben was a bright, fun-loving youth who showed an interest in writing at an early age. He became familiar with the rustic people he would later glorify by working for many years as a merchant in Dalton (fictionalized as "Darley" in his works). At the age of thirty, encouraged by both Joel Chandler Harris and Henry Grady, he decided to take his chances on writing as a profession. After several successful short stories, he made his first mark on the literary scene in 1889 with a melodramatic but extremely popular novel entitled slave. The novel's success prompted him to move to New York City, although he always spent part of every summer in Dalton. He married the South Carolina socialite Maybelle Chandler in 1896, and the couple eventually had three children.
The 1890s were Harben's experimental years. Almost Persuaded (1890), a religious novel, was so well received that Queen Victoria of England requested an autographed copy. It was followed by a moderately
The turning point
Harben excelled in creating memorable characters of older backwoods men and women, including Abner Daniel, a cracker-box philosopher noted for such witticisms as "The wust things I ever seed was sometimes at the root o' the best. Manure is a bad thing, but a cake of it will produce a daisy bigger'n any in the field." Pole Baker, a younger, cruder version of Abner, also has a way with words: "Well, boys, ef I had to go, I'd like to be melted up into puore corn whiskey an' poured through my
Besides Abner Daniel (1902), Pole Baker (1905), and Ann Boyd (1906), other noteworthy works include Westerfelt (1901), The Georgians (1904), Dixie Hart (1910), The New Clarion (1914), and The Triumph (1917), a Civil War (1861-65) epic that could have been Harben's masterpiece had he refined it further. Although Harben often tackled worthwhile, interesting, and controversial themes (racism and equal rights, antiwar beliefs, isolation, religion), he allowed sentimentality to overshadow such themes and weaken their effectiveness.
Harben wrote until his death in New York City on August 7, 1919, and was buried in his beloved Dalton.
Media Gallery: Will Harben (1858-1919)