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R O B E R T   L A X A L T   Writing The Basque Hotel

 

 

First page of an early draft of The Basque HotelIn the mid-1970s Robert Laxalt first began working on a family saga based on his own family's immigrant experiences from the nineteenth century through the present, and he came to realize hat he could not tell the entire story in one novel. The Basque Hotel (published in 1989) became the first of an acclaimed trilogy that also included Child of the Holy Ghost (1992) and The Governor's Mansion (1994).  The organization of his material was a challenge:

"When one undertakes a triology, he is   faced with two basic questions:

     Where should it begin?

     Where should it end?

The choices of beginning and end were overwhelming. I was dealing with lifetimes and a hundred turning points and climaxes in those lifetimes. Since I wanted to write about an immigrant Basque family, the trilogy should logically have begun in the the Basque Country from which my parents emigrated, and followed their lives chronologically to America and in America. I chose instead to start the trilogy by introducing the point-of-view character in America. I chose to make him a youth so that there would be a freshness in the people and things encountered. The story is mostly autobiographical, and the narrator is a boy named Pete, whose experiences and emotions are mine." (Robert Laxalt, Travels With My Royal, pp 185-186).

Thumbnail image of a newspaper page

Early drafts of the manuscript show that Laxalt's working title for this book was Rites of Passage, which certainly fit the "coming of age" theme, and that before he settled on The Basque Hotel, he used another title, The French Hotel, the actual name of the hotel  his parents owned and operated in Carson City. In the novel, the family sells the hotel in the 1930s, at the beginning of Pete's adolescence, and it burns to the ground soon after. An article in the Reno Evening Gazette, however, reports the family's sale of the hotel in 1944, when the country is at war, and the adult "Pete" (Robert), is "in the diplomatic service." The Indart family is not identical to the Laxalt family, and the events in the book are not identical to the events in Robert Laxalt's life, though there are many parallels.

 

Thumbnail image of a Robert Laxalt note

In revising his early drafts, Robert Laxalt deleted an original first chapter. He worked closely with his publisher, the University of Nevada Press, to seek input from reviewers, which he took seriously. The revisions of his drafts reflect the formal and informal opinions of his friends and assigned readers. The Robert Laxalt Papers in Special Collections document the writing process for The Basque Hotel from the author's notes to himself to the final edits of the galley proofs, providing an in-depth record of Robert Laxalt's experience of writing the book.

 

 

 

University LibrariesUniversity of Nevada, Reno • Contact Donnelyn Curtis • Updated 3 September, 2014