Perhaps the most striking feature of land development in California at the turn of the last century was the subdivision of large ranches into ten- to thirty-acre parcels. The smaller ranches were often planted in fruit orchards and worked by a single family. They promised financial security in a rustic setting far from urban problems. As Beatrice Harraden points out in Hilda Strafford, however, the promises of small-scale agriculture were sometimes not fulfilled.
Hilda Strafford by Beatrice Harraden. Dodd, Mead and Co. (1897), 218 pp.
An English woman joins her husband on an isolated southern California fruit ranch. She takes an immediate dislike to nearly everything about the place – the landscape, the farm house, the reclusiveness, and ranching in general. She is, however, attracted to her husband’s best friend. When a rain storm leads to a failure of the ranch’s reservoir and the destruction of its lemon trees, her complaints drive her husband to redouble his efforts to provide a pleasant life for her.
This small book asks how much responsibility one spouse has for the happiness of the other. Can Hilda’s husband reasonably expect her to live only for him and to abandon many of the benefits of civilization? Is it her duty to support his efforts even when she thinks they can come to no good end? The story, muddied somewhat by the relationship of Hilda and the friend, does not provide clear answers. The book is notable for its grim picture of the California landscape. But it is an easy read with plenty of conversation to keep things moving. The author, incidentally, was a popular English novelist and well known for her feminist views.