Excerpts from The Octopus
by Frank Norris

Geary and Market The terminal of the Geary Street Park and Ocean Railway, at Geary and Market, after 1891. October (Fall), 2000 Picture of the Month.

Frank Norris' novel, The Octopus, was intended to the the first book of a "trilogy of wheat". The Octopus is about wheat growers and their struggles against a monopolistic railroad. The second book, The Pit, is about trading wheat and cornering the Chicago commodity markets. The intended third novel, The Wolf, was going to be about famine and the consumption of wheat in Europe. In the first excerpt, the corner of Market and Kearney, terminal of the Geary Street Park and Ocean Railway appears below the window of Lyman Derrick's office. In the later excerpts, the Castro Street powerhouse of the Market Street Cable Railway provides part of the background for the heartbreaking scene of Mrs Hooven becoming homeless.



In his office at San Francisco, seated before a massive desk of polished redwood, very ornate, Lyman Derrick sat dictating letters to his typewriter, on a certain morning early in the spring of the year. The subdued monotone of his voice proceeded evenly from sentence to sentence, regular, precise, businesslike.

His office was on the tenth floor of the EXCHANGE BUILDING, a beautiful, tower-like affair of white stone, that stood on the corner of Market Street near its intersection with Kearney, the most imposing office building of the city.

Below him the city swarmed tumultuous through its grooves, the cable-cars starting and stopping with a gay jangling of bells and a strident whirring of jostled glass windows. Drays and carts clattered over the cobbles, and an incessant shuffling of thousands of feet rose from the pavement. Around Lotta's fountain the baskets of the flower sellers, crammed with chrysanthemums, violets, pinks, roses, lilies, hyacinths, set a brisk note of colour in the grey of the street.


The house to which Presley was led by the address in his memorandum book was a cheap but fairly decent hotel near the power house of the Castro Street cable. He inquired for Mrs.Hooven.


Thus, when ordered to move on by the officer, she had silently obeyed, not even attempting to explain her situation. She walked away to the next street-crossing. Then, in a few moments returned, taking up her place on the corner near the boarding-house, spying upon the approaching cable cars, peeping anxiously down the length of the sidewalks.


She went on. Without willing it, her feet carried her in a wide circle. Soon she began to recognise the houses; she had been in that street before. Somehow, this was distasteful to her; so, striking off at right angles, she walked straight before her for over a dozen blocks. By now, it was growing darker. The sun had set. The hands of a clock on the power-house of a cable line pointed to seven. No doubt, Minna had come long before this time, had found her mother gone, and had--just what had she done, just what COULD she do? Where was her daughter now? Walking the streets herself, no doubt. What was to become of Minna, pretty girl that she was, lost, houseless and friendless in the maze of these streets? Mrs. Hooven, roused from her lethargy, could not repress an exclamation of anguish. Here was misfortune indeed;here was calamity. She bestirred herself, and remembered the address of the boarding-house. She might inquire her way back thither. No doubt, by now the policeman would be gone home for the night. She looked about. She was in the district of modest residences, and a young man was coming toward her, carrying a new garden hose looped around his shoulder.

Frank Norris

Frank Norris's The Octopus was published in 1901. (Source: The Barbary MUSH Photo Archive).

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