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The Past and the Postwestern: Garland’s Cavanagh, Closure, and Conventions of Reading
Abstract

Abstract:

This essay contributes to discussions about directions for the field of western literary studies by querying the extent of application for the term postwestern. The author begins by observing that the field has so far dedicated the bulk of its attention largely to texts from after the world wars. In doing so, he argues, scholarship has left unclear what position earlier texts occupy within the critical discussion. The essay reconsiders a seldom-read text, Hamlin Garland’s Cavanagh: Forest Ranger, A Romance of the Rocky Mountain West (1910), to make the case that earlier texts feature complications that warrant consideration within the discourse of what ‘postwestern’ means. More specifically, the reading draws on Peter J. Rabinowitz’s ideas about narrative closure to argue that the novel’s complex interrelation of genre-based plot expectations, environmental politics, and regional identity yields concerns scholars might now recognize as closely aligned to those of postwestern primary texts and scholarship. From there, the article draws to a close by suggesting how this reading of Garland’s novel and other scholarship may encourage rethinking the term postwestern altogether.



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