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The Canadian Review of Amencan Studies, Volume IO, Number I, Spring, 1979 HamlinGarlandand FrederickPhilipGrove: Self-ConsciousChroniclers ofthe Pioneers Frances W. Kaye Hamlin Garland and Frederick Philip Grove each witnessed the end of the pioneer period in his own part of the North American West, and each selfconsciously assumed the role of chronicler of the pioneer process. Critics of frontier and farm writing have proposed various reasons to account for novelists' taking up of this genre. Henry Nash Smith, the dean of these critics, portrays James Fenimore Cooper, the writers of dime novels and the other practitioners he discusses as both reacting to and propagating an aggregate of "myths" and "symbols" through which Americans viewed their West and themselves. 1 Roy Meyer, discussing realistic fiction in The Middle Western Farm Nove/, suggests that part of the reason for the rise of this genre lay in the improvements in rural education that created more potential novelists from farm backgrounds, though like Smith he views the audience as more important than the practitioners in creating the genre. 2 Contemporary Canadian prairie writers Margaret Laurence and Robert Kraetsch in an interesting "conversation" agree that they both write about the prairie because they need to record their own backgrounds and thus to create their own identities through their fiction. 3 Smith's explanation is not pertinent to Garland and Grove, since Smith believes that his "myths" and "symbols" were exhausted by 1890-when Garland was just turning to fiction and while Grove was still a child. Whether or not Smith was right in his cut-off date is a moot point here, though certainly the most important western writing after that date went in a different direction. Meyer's suggestion is no more useful, 32 Frances n,,.. Kaye since Garland grew up before any improvements in rural education, while Grove was educated in Europe. Laurence and Kroetsch offer the most promising suggestion in the search for identity, and the purpose of this paper is to show how for both Garland and Grove the search for identity demanded that they become chroniclers of the pioneers. Individual critics of Garland and Grove have concentrated largely on biographical and psychological considerations to explain why these men wrote what they· did. Almost every commentator on Garland's autobiographical A Son of the Middle Border and his early "Main-Travelled Roads" stories, which have received the most attention of any of Garland's works, has remarked Garland's recurrent and apparently quite unmerited guilt and self-reproach for having left his mother and sister on the bare plains while he went east to culture, and has seen his early writings as an attempt to alleviate the conditions from which they and all pioneer women suffered, and thus to assuage his guilt. Although this is undoubtedly an extremely important part of Garland's decision to become a chronicler of the pioneers and a critic of the American land system, I believe that Garland had larger philosophical and aesthetic reasons as well. Critics of Grove have also been particularly interested in his personal life, at first because it seemed so obscure and fragmented, and, since Douglas O. Spettigue's dramatic discovery of Grove's background and early years, because it was so peculiarly and successfully disjointed. Beyond Grove's pragmatic need to create a background for himself and his grandiose desire to claim a spectacular one, there are, as with Garland, philosophical and aesthetic reasons that he claimed both the background and the mission that he did. I have examined the autobiographical and critical writings of each of these men to try to determine the persona that each sought to create and the reasons why that persona was linked to an almost obsessive mission to chronicle the authentic material of the frontier. If this micro-study of two men, radically different in backgrounds and temperaments, one writing in the United States and one in Canada, can show significant similarities in their motivations, it may suggest some basic relations between the search for identity and writing about the West. Both Garland and Grove were autobiographers who believed that their lives served as texts for their nations. Garland's A Son of the Middle...


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