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Carl Clinton Van Doren
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 133 pages of information about Contemporary American Novelists (1900-1920).

CHAPTER II

ARGUMENT

1.  HAMLIN GARLAND

The pedigree of the most energetic and important fiction now being written in the United States goes unmistakably back to that creative uprising of discontent in the eighties of the last century which brought into articulate consciousness the larger share of the aspects of unrest which have since continued to challenge the nation’s magnificent, arrogant grand march.

The decade had Henry Adams for its bitter philosopher, despairing over current political corruption and turning away to probe the roots of American policy under Jefferson and his immediate successors; had the youthful Theodore Roosevelt for its standard-bearer of a civic conscience which was, plans went, to bring virtue into caucuses; had Henry George for its spokesman of economic change, moving across the continent from California to New York with an argument and a program for new battles against privilege; had Edward Bellamy for its Utopian romancer, setting forth a delectable picture of what human society might become were the old iniquities reasonably wiped away and co-operative order brought out of competitive chaos; had William Dean Howells for its annalist of manners, turning toward the end of the decade from his benevolent acceptance of the world as it was to stout-hearted, though soft-voiced, accusations brought in the name of Tolstoy and the Apostles against human inequality however constituted; had—­to end the list of instances without going outside the literary class—­Hamlin Garland for its principal spokesman of the distress and dissatisfaction then stirring along the changed frontier which so long as free land lasted had been the natural outlet for the expansive, restless race.

Heretofore the prairies and the plains had depended almost wholly upon romance—­and that often of the cheapest sort—­for their literary reputation; Mr. Garland, who had tested at first hand the innumerable hardships of such a life, became articulate through his dissent from average notions about the pioneer.  His earliest motives of dissent seem to have been personal and artistic.  During that youth which saw him borne steadily westward, from his Wisconsin birthplace to windy Iowa and then to bleak Dakota, his own instincts clashed with those of his migratory father as the instincts of many a sensitive, unremembered youth must have clashed with the dumb, fierce urges of the leaders of migration everywhere.  The younger Garland hungered on the frontier for beauty and learning and leisure; the impulse which eventually detached him from Dakota and sent him on a trepid, reverent pilgrimage to Boston was the very impulse which, on another scale, had lately detached Henry James from his native country and had sent him to the ancient home of his forefathers in the British Isles.

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