Authors: Edward Hoagland

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist, short-story writer, and essayist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Cat Man, 1956

The Circle Home, 1960

The Peacock’s Tail, 1965

Seven Rivers West, 1986

Short Fiction:

City Tales, 1986

The Final Fate of the Alligators: Stories from the City, 1992


Notes from the Century Before: A Journal from British Columbia, 1969

The Courage of Turtles: Fifteen Essays About Compassion, Pain, and Love, 1970

Walking the Dead Diamond River, 1973

The Moose on the Wall: Field Notes from the Vermont Wilderness, 1974

The Edward Hoagland Reader, 1976

Red Wolves and Black Bears, 1976

African Calliope: A Journey to the Sudan, 1979

The Tugman’s Passage, 1982

Heart’s Desire: The Best of Edward Hoagland, Essays From Twenty Years, 1988

Balancing Acts: Essays, 1992

Tigers and Ice: Reflections on Nature and Life, 1999

Compass Points: How I Lived, 2001

Edited Text:

The Best American Essays, 1999, 1999


In his 1970 essay “Home Is Two Places” Edward Hoagland describes the two “complicated, quite disparate” branches of his family. On the side of his father, Warren Eugene Hoagland, he traces his ancestors–mostly farmers–to Brooklyn in prerevolutionary days and later to the American Midwest. The family of his mother, Helen Hoagland, the Morleys, came to the New World later than the Hoaglands; by 1900 they were, in the words of Edward Hoagland, “worthy people with fat family businesses.” These impeccable middle-American credentials provide Hoagland with a foundation for a varied commentary upon life and landscape in the United States.{$I[AN]9810001043}{$I[A]Hoagland, Edward}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Hoagland, Edward}{$I[tim]1932;Hoagland, Edward}

Edward Hoagland

(Library of Congress)

Hoagland grew up in the suburbs of New York City and at first attended St. Bernard’s, which he calls “an English-type school”; he later went to Deerfield Academy, a college preparatory school in Massachusetts. He seems to have been a troubled child, perhaps as a consequence of suffering from asthma and a stutter. The latter affliction remained with him, but not without positive consequences, according to Hoagland, who judges his fluency in writing as partly a compensation for lack of ease in conversation. In his nonfiction Hoagland frequently draws attention to his stutter, and in his fiction he gives his characters various idiosyncrasies that seem almost its equivalent.

Hoagland’s first novel, Cat Man, was accepted for publication before Hoagland’s graduation from Harvard University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1954. In 1956 the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, awarded the novel a literary fellowship, the first of many awards that Hoagland received for his work. Cat Man is a highly detailed and sometimes violent account of traveling-circus life told from the viewpoint of a young hobo nicknamed “Fiddle,” who tends the lions, tigers, and leopards in their cages. The work did not reach a wide audience, which is also true of his second novel, The Circle Home, and his third, The Peacock’s Tail. The Circle Home is, like Cat Man, concerned with subjects that later preoccuped Hoagland in his essays. The novel’s main character, Danny Kelly, is a prizefighter with a troubled marriage whose efforts at fidelity and sobriety seem doomed. The protagonist of The Peacock’s Tail, Ben Pringle, is an antihero somewhat in the mold of J. D. Salinger’s character Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Hoagland’s attempt to seem timely and demotic in this novel are atypical of his work as a whole.

Hoagland’s next book, Notes from the Century Before, was the result of two visits to the western Canadian province of British Columbia in the mid-1960’s–first a period of residence in a small town in the interior of the province and, soon after, a summer’s travels in the northwestern part of the province following a divorce from his first wife (to whom he had been married and divorced once before). Hoagland’s objective was to give an account of lives of old-timers–prospectors, Indians, surveyors, trappers, and the like–who had known the country before the advent of twentieth century transportation and extensive commercial development. Hoagland’s prose is infused with a novelist’s sense of drama–he states that he first set out to gather material for a novel–but he communicates a surprising quantity of information to the reader both from his own perspective and that of his picturesque characters.

In Notes from the Century Before Hoagland tests his own passions and idiosyncrasies (he has a penchant for highly personal self-revelation) against those of the people he meets and observes. Sharing with them an attachment to the wild landscape, he nevertheless admits that he is a city person, and in many subsequent essays, he details the ambivalent and ironic overtones in his relationship to the wilderness. In dealing with environmental issues Hoagland decries the encroachment of civilization upon nature, but in a general sense, he is an optimist, though with qualifications. An optimism mixed with a sense of moral and environmental peril is seen in the title essay of his first collection of essays, The Courage of Turtles, in which he contrasts the often adverse fates of wild and captive turtles to their pertinacious behavior, but less characteristically, a later essay in the same book notes the “ocean of violence” in which society is “swimming for dear life.” Though Hoagland effectively chronicles both constructive and destructive social energies in America, he is always ready to turn away from society to contemplate the natural scene; yet in doing so, he tries to forestall sentimentality or escapism on his own part or that of the reader.

Most of Hoagland’s essays appeared first in periodicals and were subsequently published in book form as collections. The Atlantic (formerly The Atlantic Monthly), Harper’s Magazine, and Sports Illustrated regularly featured his work, as did the New York weekly newspaper The Village Voice. These are a suitable forum for his essays, providing the wide and diverse audience that is his target. When his essays are published as collections, however, their qualities of style and subject matter emerge more clearly and they are more readily seen as aspects of a unified field of vision. In one collection, Red Wolves and Black Bears, Hoagland suggests that the essays be read in the order in which they are presented because several were enlarged with a view to their role in the book, but in most of the other collections the chronology and order of the essays seem not to be an issue. An important influence on Hoagland is the nineteenth century American writer Henry David Thoreau. In Hoagland’s essay “Bragging for Humanity” he acknowledges this debt while correcting a stereotyped image of Thoreau as a society-shunning recluse. According to Hoagland, Thoreau was most at home in nature but had a viable, though idiosyncratic, sense of himself as a social being, an interpretation of Thoreau that sheds some light on Hoagland himself. Although much of Hoagland’s best work concerns wilderness, or what must now pass for it, he writes that he likes the country more than the city but likes city people more than country people.

Hoagland’s early fiction was received only “quietly,” in one critic’s words, but his subsequent career as a nonfiction writer earned him great praise. The book-length account of his North African travels, African Calliope, displays the same vivid rendering of detail as the shorter nonfiction. Hoagland revisited many of the themes of Notes from the Century Before in Seven Rivers West, a novel set in the Canadian west. An adventure story with elements of humor and surrealism, it sidesteps any conventional relationships to the traditional genres of the “western novel.” In the light of the author’s earlier experiences in British Columbia and his diverse appreciation of Americana and Canadiana, Seven Rivers West seems like Hoagland’s fantasy of what he would have liked to have experienced in the remote Canadian Rockies in 1887. Rendering the Indians, flora, and particularly the fauna–including a species of Sasquatch–against a panoramic geography that is representative though imaginary in detail, Hoagland, in the words of novelist and critic John Updike, evokes “the external world in all its impervious magnificence.” Updike goes on to state that “In a long line of American novelists who have attempted in one gorgeous grasp to say it all, he has come closer than most.”

BibliographyEhrlich, Gretel. “An Essayist’s Search for Bedrock.” Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 30, 1995, 3-9. A review of Hoagland’s African Calliope, The Tugman’s Passage, and Red Wolves and Black Bears. Discusses the lasting quality of Hoagland’s personal perspective and style in his essays.Hall, Donald. “Hoagland Was There.” Review of The Edward Hoagland Reader and African Calliope, by Edward Hoagland. National Review 32 (May 30, 1980): 669-670. Describes African Calliope as a fact-piece like the work of John McPhee. In his style of enthusiasm for daily existence, Hoagland creates exciting experiences of improvisation and speculation.Hicks, Granville. “The Many Faces of Failure.” Saturday Review 48 (August 14, 1965): 21-22. Discusses Hoagland’s depiction of misfits in his fiction, particularly The Peacock’s Tail.Johnson, Ronald L. Review of Seven Rivers West, by Edward Hoagland. Western American Literature 22 (November, 1987): 227-228. Contrasts the novel’s lavish description of the Canadian landscape with what the reviewer feels is a less than compelling plot.Mills, Nicolaus. “A Rural Life Style.” The Yale Review 60 (June, 1971): 609-613. Looks at The Courage of Turtles as an expression of the rural movement in American writing. Hoagland notices what others miss about rural life: that it can be uncomfortable, angry, and in need of political organization. He also shows that it is ironically inaccessible to the very people who need it the most–those who have had to move from the country to the city because they could not afford their rural lifestyle.Sagalyn, Raphael. Review of The Edward Hoagland Reader and African Calliope, by Edward Hoagland. The New Republic 181 (December 19, 1979): 30-31. Discusses the contrasts between Hoagland’s personal essays and his fiction. African Calliope is described as an apparently disjointed travel book which becomes clearer as its people come alive and discoveries are made while journeying through the Sudan.Updike, John. “Back to Nature.” The New Yorker 63 (March 30, 1987): 120-124. Focuses on Seven Rivers West, which Updike praises for its detailed information about frontier life. While there is much visual material, there is less sound and feeling in the novel, and the heroes’ motives are not as exciting as those of the hero in Cat Man. In the pursuit of Bigfoot, Updike finds an invitation to compare it with the quest for Moby Dick, and pronounces Hoagland significant in the company of the American nineteenth century Transcendentalists.Updike, John. “Journeyers.” The New Yorker 56 (March 10, 1980): 150-159. The Edward Hoagland Reader is examined in the context of its preceding novel, Cat Man, and compared with other travel books of the time.
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