Authors: Hamlin Garland

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

American novelist and short-story writer.

September 14, 1860

West Salem, Wisconsin

March 4, 1940

Hollywood, California


Hannibal Hamlin Garland was born on a farm near West Salem, in Wisconsin. When he was eight years old his family moved to the Iowa prairie, where he grew up in the hard rural life he described in his books. In 1881, after graduating from Cedar Valley Seminary in Osage, Iowa, he taught school for a year in Illinois before moving to Boston, where, penniless and unknown, he spent a winter reading in the public library. Here he first became acquainted with the writings of Henry George and Herbert Spencer, who gave him the ethical and social inspiration to accept the realities of the agricultural life.

Hamlin Garland

(Library of Congress)

A trip back to his father’s Dakota farm in 1887 confirmed Garland in his desire to write about the life of the plains. With the encouragement of the writer Joseph Kirkland he began his first stories, which were printed in Century, Harper’s Weekly, and Arena. After his writing had made him famous, Garland in 1893 moved to Chicago, where he remained until 1916. He counted among his friends and acquaintances some of the prominent literary figures of the time, including William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and Rudyard Kipling. An important figure in the American Realism movement, he was an early supporter of fellow writer Stephen Crane. In 1916 he moved to New York and in 1930 to Los Angeles, where he died ten years later.

Main-Travelled Roads, Garland’s first collection of stories, belongs to the more important documents of American literary history. It is a conscientious record of the midwestern farmer’s plight during the rapid growth of industrialization, presented in stories that are harsh and objective, aware of a vanishing pioneer dream and hopeless of the future. Prairie Folks, published in 1893, continued this theme of the "blight as well as the bloom of the frontier." In the essays collected in Crumbling Idols Garland moved from social to cultural awareness of the changes in Western life, expressing regret for its backwardness and suggesting the possibilities of drama in the development of towns and cities. He followed Whitman in advising the artist to tell the truth of the life he saw about him. Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly, which many critics regard as his best novel, puts this idea into practice in the story of a talented girl who found poetry in savage Chicago.

A Son of the Middle Border, the last of Garland’s notable writings, is his autobiographical summation of the agrarian illusion he had seen dispelled. Many critics regard the sequels to this book, among them A Daughter of the Middle Border and Trail-Makers of the Middle Border, as lesser achievements than the earlier vision, though A Daughter of the Middle Border won a Pulitzer Prize. Later in life Garland tried writing plays and wrote articles on psychic phenomena, as well as novels about cowboys and Indians, which were commercially successful but critically disregarded.

Author Works Long Fiction: A Member of the Third House, 1892 Jason Edwards: An Average Man, 1892 A Little Norsk, 1892 A Spoil of Office, 1892 Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly, 1895 The Spirit of Sweetwater, 1898 (reissued as Witch’s Gold, 1906) Boy Life on the Prairie, 1899 The Eagle’s Heart, 1900 Her Mountain Lover, 1901 The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop, 1902 Hesper, 1903 The Light of the Star, 1904 The Tyranny of the Dark, 1905 The Long Trail, 1907 Money Magic, 1907 (reissued as Mart Haney’s Mate, 1922) The Moccasin Ranch, 1909 Cavanagh, Forest Ranger, 1910 Victor Ollnee’s Discipline, 1911 The Forester’s Daughter, 1914 Short Fiction: Main-Travelled Roads: Six Mississippi Valley Stories, 1891 Prairie Folks, 1893 Wayside Courtships, 1897 Other Main-Travelled Roads, 1910 They of the High Trails, 1916 The Book of the American Indian, 1923 Drama: Under the Wheel: A Modern Play in Six Scenes, pb. 1890 Poetry: Prairie Songs, 1893 Nonfiction: Crumbling Idols: Twelve Essays on Art, 1894 Ulysses S. Grant: His Life and Character, 1898 The Trail of the Goldseekers, 1899 Out-of-Door Americans, 1901 A Son of the Middle Border, 1917 A Daughter of the Middle Border, 1921 Trail-Makers of the Middle Border, 1926 The Westward March of American Settlement, 1927 Back-Trailers from the Middle Border, 1928 Roadside Meetings, 1930 Companions on the Trail: A Literary Chronicle, 1931 My Friendly Contemporaries: A Literary Log, 1932 Afternoon Neighbors, 1934 Joys of the Trail, 1935 Forty Years of Psychic Research: A Plain Narrative of Fact, 1936 Mysteries of the Buried Crosses, 1939 Bibliography Garland, Hamlin. Selected Letters of Hamlin Garland. Edited by Keith Newlin and Joseph B. McCullough. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. The volume’s introduction serves as a good entry into Hamlin’s biography. Joseph, Philip. "Landed and Literary: Hamlin Garland, Sarah Orne Jewett, and the Production of Regional Literatures." Studies in American Fiction 26 (Autumn, 1998): 147-170. Compares some of Garland’s early stories with the stories in Jewett’s Country of the Pointed Firs to examine ideological conflict within literary regionalism. Argues that while Garland’s support for social reform leads him to challenge some of the conventions of late nineteenth century realism, Jewett does not see class differences as a hindrance to U.S. destiny. Kaye, Frances. "Hamlin Garland’s Feminism." In Women and Western Literature, edited by Helen Winter Stauffer and Susan Rosowski. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1982. Kaye discusses Garland’s deliberate feminism, identifying him as the only male author of note at the end of the nineteenth century who spoke in favor of women’s rights, suffrage, and equality in marriage. McCullough, Joseph. Hamlin Garland. Boston: Twayne, 1978. This study follows Garland through his literary career, dividing it into phases, with major attention to the first phase of his reform activities and the midwestern stories. A primary bibliography and a select, annotated secondary bibliography are included. Martin, Quentin E. "Hamlin Garland’s ‘The Return of a Private’ and ‘Under the Lion’s Paw’ and the Monopoly of Money in Post-Civil War America." American Literary Realism 29 (Fall, 1996): 62-77. Discusses how Garland made money and power the central features in his two stories; discusses the connection between the stories and the financial system of Gilded Age America in the 1890’s. Nagel, James, ed. Critical Essays on Hamlin Garland. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. Nagel’s introduction surveys the critical responses to Garland’s work. This volume is especially rich in reviews of Garland’s books, and it also includes twenty-six biographical and critical essays. Newlin, Keith. Hamlin Garland: A Life. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2008. A comprehensive look at Garland’ life and career, including his political activity, his interest in the American West, and his memoirs. By far the most thorough biography of Garland to date. Newlin, Keith. "Melodramatist of the Middle Border: Hamlin Garland’s Early Work Reconsidered." Studies in American Fiction 21 (Autumn, 1993): 153-169. Discusses Garland’s development of a dramatic method to express the privation of the Middle Border; argues that he was torn between his admiration for the universal truths of melodrama and his realization that melodrama was limited in its realistic presentation of life. Newlin, Keith, ed. Hamlin Garland: A Bibliography, with a Checklist of Unpublished Letters. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston Publishing, 1998. Basically a primary bibliography, with one section listing articles that addressed Garland extensively. The introduction surveys the availability of primary and secondary sources. Newlin includes a chronology and title index. Pizer, Donald. Hamlin Garland’s Early Work and Career. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960. Pizer treats in careful detail Garland’s intellectual and artistic development during the first phase of his literary and reformist career, from 1884 to 1895. He discusses Garland’s development of his creed, his literary output, and reform activities in society, theater, politics, and the arts. Pizer includes a detailed bibliography of Garland’s publications during these years. Silet, Charles. Henry Blake Fuller and Hamlin Garland: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1977. This volume contains a comprehensive annotated guide to writing about Garland through 1975. For information about scholarly writing on Garland after 1975, see American Literary Scholarship: An Annual. Silet, Charles, Robert Welch, and Richard Boudreau, eds. The Critical Reception of Hamlin Garland, 1891-1978. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1985. This illustrated volume contains thirty-three essays that illustrate the development of Garland’s literary reputation from 1891 to 1978. The introduction emphasizes the difficulty critics have had trying to determine the quality of Garland’s art. Taylor, Walter. The Economic Novel in America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1942. Taylor examines Garland’s work in the context of fiction that reflects economic issues and trends. In Garland’s literary career he sees a reflection of the fall of pre-Civil War agrarian democracy with the halting of the advance of the frontier and the decline of populism.

Categories: Authors