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E B E R H A R D A L S E N State University of New York College at Cortland HAMLIN GARLAND’S FIRST NOVEL: A Spoil of Office A Spoil of Office is one of Hamlin Garland’s least known and least appreciated works. Only a few critics have taken the trouble to analyze it, and what they have had to say about the book cer­ tainly does not encourage anyone to read it. The novel is usually described as a political tract and an artistic failure. But its flaws have been both exaggerated and misrepresented, and by concentrat­ ing on its shortcomings, the book’s critics have overlooked a number of very interesting features which afford valuable insights into Garland’s development as a novelist and into trends in the American realistic novel. A re-evaluation of A Spoil of Office will show that it deserves more credit and attention than it has received to date.1 The novel was published in 1892, a year after Garland achieved his first success with the short stories of Main Travelled Roads. 1892 was probably the most fertile year in Garland’s career, for during that year he published no less than three novels and one novelette. He filed copyright for Jason Edwards on January 4, for A Member of the Third House on March 3, for A Little Norsk on June 18, and for A Spoil of Office on October 30. Garland later referred to the last of these as “my first long story,”2 for A Spoil of Office had been serialized in the radical Boston magazine, the Arena, previous to its release in book form. The first instalment had appeared in January, and the last one in June of 1892. Moreover, the other two full length novels, Jason Edwards and A Member of the Third House, were adapted from two plays that Garland had written in 1890.3 Jason Edwards is clearly a more X A Spoil of Office is being reprinted with an introduction of mine in the Series in American Studies, ed. Joseph J. Kwiat, Johnson Reprint Corporation, New York. 2Hamlin Garland, Roadside Meetings (New York, 1930), p. 186. & Jason Edwards is based on the play Under the Wheel which was first published in the June 1890 issue of the Arena, and A Member of the Third House, which was never printed as a play, had been used for dramatic readings by Garland during his lectures in Boston in 1890-1891. 92 Western American Literature successful adaptation than A Member of the Third House, and it contains much original material. Nevertheless it, too, betrays its origins. For the plots in both books develop almost exclusively in terms of dialogue, and the few usually static narrative passages, particularly those in A Member of the Third House, often read like stage directions. In their narrative technique both novels have therefore only very little in common with A Spoil of Office which develops and expands the fictional method that characterizes the stories of Main Travelled Roads. It was actually not at his own initiative but at the instigation of Benjamin Orange Flower, the political idealist and editor of the Arena, that Garland wrote his first novel.4 Flower had realized the propagandistic potential of Garland’s middle border stories, and in order to fully exploit it, he commissioned Garland in 1891 to write a novel about the tihrd party movement. Garland accord­ ingly toured the Midwest throughout the year 1891. In September he put himself “in the hands of the State Central Committee of Iowa . . . campaigning in the interest of the People’s Party.” He took notes wherever he went and, working in hotel rooms and on trains, he managed to finish the novel before the end of the year, so that the first instalment could appear in the January 1892 issue of the Arena.5 Before A Spoil of Office came out in book form and while it was still running as a serial, Garland sent an offprint to William Dean Howells. Howells had written a very sympathetic review of Main Travelled Roads the previous year, and that review had done much to establish Garland’s reputation. Now...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 91-105
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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