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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor


Hannibal Hamlin Garland's childhood and youth epitomize the late nineteenth-century American westering movement he would represent in fiction and autobiography. Born on a farm in Wisconsin, Garland moved with his family to successive farming locations in Minnesota and Iowa, a movement spurred by his father's restless drive for new land and a fresh start. Garland's lifelong sensitivity to the situation of women appears to have stemmed from his view of his mother's suffering and hardship in attempting to establish a home on these farms on the raw prairie. In 1876 the family was settled in Osage, Iowa, where Garland enrolled in the Cedar Valley Seminary. Following his graduation in 1881 and a trip east with his brother, Garland returned to the West to stake a claim in the Dakota Territory, where his family was now settled.

Garland's growing dissatisfaction with what he took to be the bleakness of upper-midwestern farm life together with his fresh, favorable impressions of the more settled and established East crystallized in 1884 with a decision to move to Boston to pursue further education and to attempt to establish a career. Working on his own at the Boston Public Library, Garland studied widely, from the poetry of Walt Whitman to the evolutionary philosophy of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer. His reading of Henry George's economic theories convinced Garland that radical reform of the tax system was needed to bring justice to working farmers in relation to the land owners, an idea that informed much of his subsequent fiction.

Gradually establishing himself, Garland obtained a teaching position at the Boston School of Oratory, gave lectures on literature, and started to write about the prairie life that was engraved upon his memory. Visits to his parents in 1887 and 1888 renewed those memories and stimulated a series of stories that were collected with the title Main-Travelled Roads (1891). These stories, including "Up the CoulÚ," "The Return of a Private," and "Under the Lion's Paw," are unsparing in their depiction of harsh realities of midwestern farm life and are especially noteworthy for their knowledgeable portrayal of the lives of farm women and of the need for economic reform. William Dean Howells, a central figure in American letters, hailed Main-Travelled Roads as a strong contribution to the movement toward realism in literature. Prairie Folks (1893) collects more of Garland's early stories of farm life and, with Main-Travelled Roads, represents the best of Garland's short fiction. In 1892 Garland followed up his successful short stories with the publication of three novels of strongly polemical bent: Jason Edwards: Average Man, which expounds the tax theories of Henry George; A Spoil of Office, an exposÚ of political corruption and exploration of possibilities of reform along Populist Party lines; and A Member of the Third House, a depiction of the influence of the railroad monopoly on a state legislature. Garland's career as novelist climaxed in 1895 with the publication of Rose of Dutcher's Coolly, which presents, in a sense, a female alter ego to Garland. Like Garland, Rose, born on a farm, wearies of the monotony of farm life and dreams of escape through establishing herself as an author. When Rose leaves the farm, her guilt toward her father, left behind, recalls themes of guilt felt by the departing young in relation to farm families that we see in "Up the CoulÚ" and elsewhere in Garland's fiction and autobiography. With marriage, Rose and her husband pledge to live as equals, a relationship Garland explicitly sought with the artist Zulime Taft, whom he married in 1899.

In essays collected in Crumbling Idols (1894) Garland gave his theory of the literary realism, or "Veritism" as he called it, that he championed in the earlier part of his career. In the mid-1890s, with an eye to attracting a larger readership Garland turned to the production of romantic adventure stories. One of the better of these later novels, The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop (1902), deals with the abuse of American Indians by cattlemen. Garland's knowledgeable interest in American Indians, based on his travels to Indian reservations, is also strongly apparent in stories collected in his late Book of the American Indian (1923), a work meriting wider attention.

Garland's literary career yielded a final, rich harvest with the publication of his autobiographies. A Son of the Middle Border (1917), a recognized classic American personal narrative, was followed by the sequel A Daughter of the Middle Border (1921), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Subsequent autobiographical works (some semi-fictionalized), including Trail-Makers of the Middle Border (1926) and Back-Trailers from the Middle Border (1928), though perhaps lacking the power of the first two, remain a lasting and rich resource for students of American life and literary history.

James Robert Payne
New Mexico State University

In the Heath Anthology
Up the CoulÚ (1891)

Other Works
Main-Travelled Roads (1891)
Jason Edwards (1892)
Crumblind Idols (1894)

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Hamlin Garland
Introduction and links to other web sources.

Hamlin Garland Project
Photographs, a brief biography, and a description of USC's Garland Collection.

Hamlin Garland Society
Biographical information, portal to collections, and more.

Hamlin Garland: A Son of the Middle Border
Student project containing text and comments on Under the Lion's Paw.

Secondary Sources

Jackson R. Bryer and Eugene Harding, Hamlin Garland and the Critics: An Annotated Bibliography, 1973

Jean Holloway, Hamlin Garland: A Biography, 1960, 1971

Joseph B. McCullough, Hamlin Garland, 1978

James Nagel, ed., Critical Essays of Hamlin Garland, 1982

Keith Newlin, ed., Selected Letters of Hamlin Garland, 1998

Donald Pizer, Hamlin Garland's Early Work and Career, 1960

Charles L.P. Silet, Robert E. Welch, Richard Boudreau, eds., The Critical Reception of Hamlin Garland, 1891-1978, 1985