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  • Summers in Arcady: The Deep Time of Evolutionary Romance in James Lane Allen, Hamlin Garland, and Edith Wharton
  • Donna M. Campbell

On 13 May 1895, during the composition of the novel considered his best, Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly, Hamlin Garland told Robert Underwood Johnson, the editor of Century, that he was writing “the intimate history of [a] girl, but it is hopeless to expect to print it serially.”1 One reason why Garland may have believed serial publication “hopeless” was borne out in the book’s critical reception, for some reviewers attacked the depiction of Rose Dutcher’s sexual awakening, charging Garland with pandering to the public by choosing “animal coarseness . . . as [a] source of appeal.”2 The incidents surrounding that reception have spawned a Garland tradition not unlike that of Kate Chopin’s silence after The Awakening (1899) or Thomas Hardy’s abandonment of fiction after a similar furor over Jude the Obscure (1895). According to Donald Pizer, Garland afterwards retreated into biography and a second career as a “Rocky Mountain romancer. He was never again to deal as fully with controversial material in his fiction.”3 But the charge of “animal coarseness” distracts from and sensationalizes the truly revolutionary nature of what Garland had attempted in his “intimate history of [a] girl”: Rose Dutcher has the power to choose a mate based on overtly expressed physical desire as well as intellectual attraction.4 In its treatment of the summer pastoral idyll, Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly, like James Lane Allen’s Summer in Arcady (1896) and Edith Wharton’s Summer (1917), subverts genre traditions through what may be called the evolutionary romance, the courtship story re-envisioned through the Darwinian subject matter of female reproductive choice.5

Substituting Darwinian images of sexual selection for pastoral ones, the evolutionary romance punctures the regionalist text with biologically driven [End Page 95] actions, suggesting what Wai- Chee Dimock has called a “deep time” at odds with the temporal indeterminacy of the conventional pastoral. With their lush descriptions of rural summer settings, Summers in Arcady, Summer, and Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly evoke pastoral conventions, yet their regionalism undercuts these, offering pastoral time as a topos rather than as realistic representation. As in other regionalist texts, the pastoral exists as a performance invoked through classical allusions and references to timelessness rather than as a factual correlative to the novel’s events. Finding in regionalism evidence of tourist culture, of seeming resistance but actual adherence to nationalist fervor, and of gender and racial dynamics that run counter to a national narrative of ethnic harmony and homogeneity, critics such as Mark Storey, Philip Joseph, Sandra Zagarell, Tom Lutz, and June Howard demonstrate that regionalism necessarily engages national and global temporalities through its dichotomizing of difference, which contrasts regional with national, past with present, tradition with innovation, primitive with modern, and outside observers with regional subjects.6 Incorporating cosmopolitan perspectives, the novels by Allen, Wharton, and Garland demonstrate the region’s engagement with the larger world as well as its claim to realist specificity. They juxtapose nationalist themes, defined as contemporary, contingent, and historical, with regionalist concerns, rendered on the surface as timeless and of the past. Set in the summer, they challenge other, temporally similar forms, such as the pastoral and the summer idyll or vacation romance,7 by recasting summer as dominated by biological temporality.

Regionalist writers like Sarah Orne Jewett developed strategies of misdirection to forestall the issue of temporality from dominating the pastoral narrative common to the summer idyll. Deephaven, for example, displaces its lesbian subtext by coding the cross-class relationship of Helen and Kate as that of young women indifferent to suitors or city notions of courtship, intrigued only by the bygone romance they read into a faded packet of letters from a lover of Kate’s great-aunt. Another summer idyll, Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs, features excursions, ancient feuds, conversations with elderly neighbors, and a growing friendship between the narrator and her landlady, Mrs. Todd, but the closest approaches to heterosexual romance occur in the lives of the previous generations. One “misty summer night,” Mrs. Todd tells the narrator the story of her...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5103
Print ISSN
1540-3084
Pages
pp. 95-113
Launched on MUSE
2019-12-30
Open Access
No
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