Hamlin Garland's Early Work and Career

By Donald Pizer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
REFORMING THE ARTS (1892-1894)

I

IN LATE 1892 Garland and his parents made an extended trip to the Pacific Coast. During the latter part of November and all through December Garland combined business with pleasure as he escorted his parents on their vacation in the California sun and lectured from Los Angeles to Portland. The trip served as a natural stocktaking interlude in his career. He had spent an intensely active year, publishing four novels and participating in the organization and the campaign of the Populist party. In this new, fresh country, with A Spoil of Office recently published and the election of 1892 over, there was opportunity for reflection and decision. When Garland returned to Boston in mid-January, 1893, he had reached two conclusions which were greatly to affect his work and career. He determined to cease embodying political and economic ideas in his fiction, and he resolved to move to Chicago.

Several influences contributed to Garland's decision to divorce his creative work from political-economic controversy. First of all, there was the critical reaction to his fiction of 1891-1892. Most of the "working" literary criticism of the 1890's--that is, newspaper and magazine reviewing--was controlled by conventions of the genteel tradition. As William Van O'Connor, among others, has pointed out, "Writers in the genteel tradition . . . divided experience into two major spheres. On the one side was love, art, and the ideal; on the other, sex, everyday experience, and the forces of materialism."1 Great literature, it was generally believed, was restricted to the first class of experience. Literature of the second class might be "strong"--a favorite adjective ap-

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