Posted in Short Stories

William Austin: Peter Rugg, the Missing Man (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 6)

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“Your estate, indeed, remains, but no home. You were cut off from the last age, and you can never be fitted to the present. Your home is gone, and you can never have another home in this world.”

It’s been a while since I’ve been to 19th Century America in my short story reading so it’s a nice surprise when I selected the Six of Spades for Week 6 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project which corresponds to William Austin’s “Peter Rugg, the Missing Man” published in 1827.

Travelers in New England during the 1820’s periodically run into Peter Rugg  driving a horse and carriage with a young girl and followed by a rain storm. The man always asks how to get to Boston. As the story proceeds, the reader begins to understand that the man has an “other-worldliness” about him. In most of the accounts, his horse is significantly larger and blacker than normal. As these accounts unfold, the reader also realizes that the Boston this man is looking for is not the current Boston.

So the title character appears to be a ghost or a time traveler. I enjoy the way the travelers don’t seem shocked that the man could be a ghost as though it were common for ghosts to roam around the countryside of the young United States.

Just as in Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”, Peter Rugg comes from a time prior to the American Revolution and doesn’t quite understand what’s going on in this new country. An attitude of “we’re never going back” from the travelers alluded to in the quotation I included contrasts nicely with Rugg’s incredulousness about all of the changes.

oxford short stories

“Peter Rugg, the Missing Man” is included in my copy of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

2 thoughts on “William Austin: Peter Rugg, the Missing Man (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 6)

  1. I know I’ve read this story. Or at least I think I have. I own that JCO-edited anthology and am pretty sure I worked my way through the entire thing “back in the 90s”. I’ll have to dig my copy out and see it again. As a big Rip van Winkle fan, I wonder if this author met with charges of “copying” the RvW idea for this story back in the 1820s.

    1. “Rip Van Winkle” is definitely the better story here but this one does have its own merits. JCO in the introduction says that Austin has sort of faded away and isn’t read that much any more.

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