Hamlin Garland's Early Work and Career

By Donald Pizer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE MIDDLE-BORDER LOCAL COLORIST (1885-1888

I

WHEN Hamlin Garland returned to the middle border in early July, 1887, it was with the aim of gathering material for fictional use. Though his primary endeavor during his three years in Boston had been to establish himself as a teacher and a critic, he had made numerous attempts at fiction. These attempts--almost all fragmentary--paralleled the development of his critical ideas, and they terminated in his starting west as a practitioner as well as an advocate of local color.

Garland seems to have made his initial experiments in fiction early in 1885, some three or four months before his lectures at Mrs. Payson's in July. In his notebook for early 1885 are a number of stories which have in common a dependence on the sensational and the strange and a superficial use of Western material. Although he was later to attack the outré, his earliest work illustrates his own idea that a new art (or artist) begins with the sensational. A characteristic example of these early experiments is "Ten Years Dead," which he managed to publish in the minor Boston magazine Every Other Saturday in March, 1885.1 The narrator meets in the Chicago Public Library a strange, mournful man named Gregory, who tells him of his "blighted life." Gregory, the son of a Western farmer, had suffered an attack of brain fever in an argument and had awakened ten years later with no recollection of the intervening years. He has since unsuccessfully attempted to uncover this lost period of his life. The theme and the technique of the story were, as Garland later said, "after Hawthorne--a very long way after Hawthorne."2

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