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Hamlin Garland

A Life

Keith Newlin

Publication Year: 2008

In recognition of his achievements in literature, Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) received four honorary doctorates and a Pulitzer Prize. Keith Newlin traces the rise of this prairie farm boy with a half-formed ambition to write who then skyrocketed into international prominence before he was forty. His life is a story of ironic contradictions: the radical whose early achievement thrust him to the forefront of literary innovation but whose evolutionary aesthetic principles could not themselves adapt to changing conditions; the self-styled “veritist” whose credo demanded that he verify every fact but whose credulity led him to spend a lifetime seeking to confirm the existence of spirits. His need for recognition caused him to cultivate rewarding friendships with the leaders of literary culture, yet even when he attained that recognition, it was never enough, and his self-doubt caused him fits of black despair.
The first and only other biography of Hamlin Garland was published more than forty years ago; since then, letters, manuscripts, and family memoirs have surfaced to provide, along with changing literary scholarship, a more evaluative and critical interpretation of Garland’s life and times. Hamlin Garland: A Life is an exploration of Garland’s contributions to American literary culture and places his work within the artistic context of its time.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii

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pp. ix-xii

All biographies are written with the help of others, and I am pleased to acknowledge the aid of two people who were instrumental in the composition of this book. Garland's granddaughter Victoria Doyle- Jones (daughter of Constance) granted permission to quote from his papers and from her aunt Mary Isabel's unpublished memoir ...

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Prologue, March 14, 1940

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pp. 1-6

A bitter March wind streamed through the coulees and buffeted the gathering of thirty-five mourners who stood before the rough grave at Neshonoc Cemetery, near the small village of West Salem, Wisconsin. Snow fell lightly upon their shoulders, the ground hard-frozen beneath their feet, as the sexton stood nearby, sweating from ...

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1. Return of the Private, 1860-68

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pp. 7-16

The central fact of life for Hamlin Garland was a constant awareness that he was the son of a pioneer with a bad case of land fever who drifted ever westward in search of better opportunities, each time seeking to augment his landholdings but finding betrayal in the land or its crops. Before he was sixteen years old, Hamlin would ...

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2. Boy Life on the Prairie, 1868-81

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pp. 17-39

When Hamlin was eight years old, his father decided, once again, to push on to better opportunities, his dream of flat, clear land revived by news that affordable land was available in Winneshiek County, Iowa. His Green's Coulee farm, while conveniently located near his parents (who in 1861 had moved to Onalaska to start a grocery store) and ...

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3. Dakota Homesteader, 1881-84

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pp. 40-61

In the 1870s Dakota Territory was still unsettled land. For years, the Yanktonais and other divisions of Sioux had been resisting, with little success, incursions of would-be settlers and government survey parties. By 1865 most of the Yanktonais had been removed to the Standing Rock Reservation, which straddles the border of ...

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4. Boston Mentors, 1884-85

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pp. 62-76

On a cold and rainy day in October 1884, Hamlin Garland debarked from a train in Boston's Hoosac Station. In his pockets was $130, all that remained of the $200 he had earned from the sale of his Dakota claim. He had stopped in Chicago to buy a Prince Albert frock coat—his first made-to-order suit, a mid-thigh, ...

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5. The Earnest Apprentice, 1886-87

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pp. 77-92

One important consequence of his decision to inaugurate a career as a professional lecturer is that Garland began to study literature even more intensely. In addition to borrowing books from the Boston Public Library, he was an avid reader of newspapers and magazines, from which he gleaned not only the latest discussions about ...

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6. Single-Tax Realist, 1888

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pp. 93-115

In September 1877 Garland returned to Boston and to his teaching, determined to introduce into his lectures his new vision of local color inspired by his western visit. At this point in his career he had not settled on a genre: he filled his notebooks with sketches, aborted stories, poems, fragments of plays, and autobiographical ...

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7. Life under the Wheel, 1888-89

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pp. 116-133

Upon his return to Boston in September 1888, Garland began writing in earnest while also continuing his activities on behalf of the single-tax cause. The next three years would be among his most fertile, and his ambitions and energies were pulled in many directions. He wrote reams of fiction, much poetry, a number of book reviews, ...

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8. Main-Travelled Roads, 1889-91

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pp. 134-147

September 1889 proved to be a busy month. Word came that his sister, Jessie, had married. The fate Garland had feared and which he had delineated in "A Common Case" had come to pass: Jessie had married a Dakota farmer. The Sentinel of Columbia, Dakota Territory, announced the marriage of Bert S. Knapp and Jessie V. ...

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9. Table Rapper, 1890-92

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pp. 148-169

While Garland was busily at work establishing himself as a writer of fiction, he was equally engaged in attempting to alter the course of American drama, seeking to substitute contemporary issues and realistic characters for the clich├ęd conventions of melodrama. His friendship with the Hernes had introduced him to a number of ...

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10. The Campaign for Realism, 1893

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pp. 170-184

With the defeat of the Populist Party in the 1892 elections, Garland withdrew from political activism. Part of the reason was no doubt his disappointment at the party's failure to convince voters that more governmental intervention was needed to improve farm conditions. He was also disappointed that the single-tax idea had gained so little ...

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11. The Iconoclast, 1893-94

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pp. 185-200

In November, soon after the Dial flap, Garland returned to Boston. He intended to settle permanently in Chicago, since he was convinced the city was destined to become the cultural center of America, but first he needed to tie up loose ends. One was his involvement with the American Psychical Society, for he had arranged ...

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12. Western Horizons, 1895

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pp. 201-216

In the midst of the controversy concerning Crumbling Idols, Garland discovered yet another enthusiasm: bringing American art to the masses. The 1893 Columbian Exposition had awakened great interest in the visual arts, and among its exhibitions were a number of paintings by Scandinavian impressionists that had aroused much ...

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13. "Ho, for the Klondike!" 1896-98

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pp. 217-237

Reeling from the critical cudgeling over Rose of Dutcher's Coolly, one day Garland was talking over his troubles with Samuel S. McClure, who was then hustling to increase the circulation of McClure's Magazine. When the first issue appeared in June 1893, few would have predicted its meteoric rise. In 1885 the four leading monthly ...

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14. The End of the Trail, 1899-1902

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pp. 238-2262

When Garland returned from the wilderness in September 1898, his physical health was renewed by his experience and he threw himself into his writing, producing more creative work in the twelve months following his experience than during any other year in his career. But still the depressions plagued him. The Klondike trek had ...

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15. Adrift, 1903-7

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pp. 263-279

On July 15, 1903, Garland witnessed his daughter's violent birth, the memory of which would haunt him forever. After three days of labor, Zulime was exhausted and close to death. A young, inexperienced doctor, Edward Evans of La Crosse, had at last been called in and performed a forceps delivery, disfiguring the infant with a ...

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16. "A Born Promoter," 1907-14

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pp. 280-306

On June 18, 1907, just nine months after Garland had returned from Europe, and despite his vow at the time of Mary Isabel's birth not to put his wife through the trauma again, a second daughter was born. The new parents could not immediately agree on a name for the infant, and her birth certificate recorded "no name female ...

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17. A Son of the Middle Border, 1914-17

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pp. 307-326

His morale boosted by Sullivan's acceptance of "A Son of the Middle Border," Garland set to work preparing six installments for serial publication. Meanwhile, in February 1914 Harper and Brothers published A Forester's Daughter, another novel about the forestry service. Tired of the conventional romance plot that readers ...

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18. Out of Step with the Moderns, 1918-30

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pp. 327-347

A Son of the Middle Border, Garland's greatest financial success, would go on to sell more copies during his lifetime than any of his other books. In addition to the regular trade edition, it appeared in five editions marketed to various groups, as well as being issued as a set with A Daughter of the Middle Border, besides being published ...

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19. The Historian, 1919-29

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pp. 348-374

While mounting his rearguard action against the incursion of the modernists, Garland was busy revising the manuscript of A Daughter of the Middle Border. Relieved of the pain from his arthritis, he was once again able to spend extended hours at his desk, going over the flaws of the manuscript and laboring to revise it to fit with the ...

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20. Fortunate Exile, 1929-40

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pp. 375-404

When Garland arrived in Hollywood in January 1929, he marveled at the temperate climate: "Weather is like June, cloudless, windless and serene." Everywhere he turned he noted blossoming flowers, verdant shrubs, and green trees, all bathed in warm sunlight that played over the tasteful gardens and Spanish ...


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pp. 405-468


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pp. 469-485

Index of Works by Hamlin Garland

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pp. 486-490

E-ISBN-13: 9780803217713
E-ISBN-10: 0803217714

Illustrations: 32 b/w
Publication Year: 2008