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C H A R L E S T. M I L L E R The University of Iowa Hamlin Garland's Retreat from Realism During most of his early literary career, Hamlin Garland was a militant crusader for realism— or what he liked to call “veritism” for a preferred etymological emphasis. Realism was a post-Civil War movement in American fiction, instigated largely by the new economic and social conditions resulting from the war, and taking its cue from earlier European literary developments, notably in France and Russia. William Dean Howells and Henry James were the acknowledged leaders of the movement, which in the 1870’s and 1880’s also enlisted John W. De Forest, Edgar Watson Howe, Joseph Kirkland, and others, and in the 1890’s was to attract, be­ sides Garland, such writers as Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen, Henry Blake Fuller, and the best of the lot, Stephen Crane.1 With inexhaustible patience, by means of critical comment and fictional example, Howells strove to wean the American reading public from its ingrained romantic predilections, and James’s psy­ chological realism widened and deepened the premises of his con­ frere. These premises were simply stated. For a firm basis, How­ ells borrowed from John Addington Symonds a triad of “simple, natural, and honest” criteria,2 and made good use of Emerson’s dicta: 1To insist on exclusive categories, such as “naturalist” for Crane and “veritist” for Garland, would blur much of the literary history of the 1890’s. Both writers were deeply involved in the realistic movement, and the variant terms at that time were concerned more with degrees of realism than with separate genres. The omission of Mark Twain from the cited fraternity is intentional. As a theoretician and practitioner of realism, he was in many respects a case apart, which requires special attention beyond the limits of this essay or this footnote. 2John Addington Symonds, Renaissance in Italy (New York, 1887), II, 375. Quoted by Howells in “Editor’s Study,” Harper’s Magazine, LXXV (November, 1887), 965. 120 Western American Literature I ask not for the great, the remote, the romantic. . . . I embrace the common; I sit at the feet of the familiar and the low. . . . The foolish man wonders at the unusual, but the wise man at the usual. . . . Today always looks mean to the thoughtless, but today is a king in disguise. . . . Banks and tariffs, the newspaper and caucus, Methodism and Unitarianism, are flat and dull to dull people, but rest on the same foundations of wonder as the town of Troy and the temple of Delphi.3 With such encouragements— in fact, he needed none, for he saw his way clear in the early 1870’s— Howells defined realism as “that fidelity to experience and probability of motive [which] are essen­ tial conditions of a great imaginative literature.”4 Realism, he in­ sisted, is “the good school, the only school, all aberrations from nature being so much anarchy.”5 And some time later Henry James wrote: “The real represents to my perception the things we cannot possibly not know, sooner or later, in one way or another; it being but one of the accidents of our hampered state, and one of the incidents of their quantity and number, that particular instances have not yet come our way.”6 In 1894, in a little book of critical commentary entitled Crumbling Idols, Hamlin Garland added to these formulations some brave new words of his own. This work, he announced, is intended to weaken the hold of conventionalism upon the youthful artist. It aims also to be constructive, by its statement and insistent re­ statement that American art, to be enduring and worthy, must be original and creative. . . . It is this spirit which is reinvigorating art in every nation of Europe; and shall we sit down and copy the last epics of feudalism, and repeat the dying echoes of Romance?7 “Life is the model,” said Garland, “truth is the master. . . . The pleasure of recreating in the image of nature is the artist’s unfailing reward.”8 “This,” he declared, “is the essence of veritism: ‘Write of those things of which you know most, and for which you...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 119-129
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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