Hamlin Garland made his mark primarily as a writer of innovative
realistic short stories in the 1890s, he also wrote some nineteen
novels, almost none of which ever attained the critical acclaim of his
first collection of short stories, Main-Travelled Roads (1891).
The single exception is Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly, his
fifth novel and tenth book, published in 1895.
The novel traces the development of a motherless girl from her
childhood on a small farm in a Wisconsin coulee (a “coulee” or
“coolly” is the French name for the high ridges and deep valleys of
southwestern Wisconsin) through her student days at the University of
Wisconsin to her emergence in Chicago as an aspiring poet.
It ends with her marriage to a prominent Chicago newspaperman and
literary critic. Today
nearly all readers praise Rose for its forthright depiction of a
young woman’s emerging sexuality and its social message about a
girl’s desire to become a writer equal with men rather than a mere
wife subordinate to her husband’s will.
time, Garland was at the height of his fame: he had published nine books
and dozens of short stories, as well as more than two dozen articles
devoted to literary topics; he had lectured widely on various Populist
issues; and he had gained a reputation for being America’s most vocal
proponent of realism, a reputation solidified by his 1894 manifesto, Crumbling
Idols. The idea for Rose
had been fermenting since 1890. He
had spent more time on its composition than he had on any other work,
for in it he sought to embody the literary theories he had been
advocating for years. When
he finally sent off corrected proofs for publication, he expected—or
at least hoped—that his years of toil would pay off in public acclaim,
but when Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly was published in late 1895,
it met a chorus of disapproval. Judging by Garland’s latest effort,
the Providence Sunday Journal asserted in a fairly typical
review, “The novel of the future is clearly to be ill-digested, badly
written, trivial, absurd, nasty, violent, devoid of taste and wit, and
in every way what the blind critics say a novel ought not to be.” “‘Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly’ leaves a more
disagreeable taste in the mouth than ‘Jude the Obscure,’ opined The
Critic. And the Chicago
Times-Herald lamented, “The book almost makes one want to preach
suicide to all young girls—country or city—every kind.”
Clearly, Garland had miscalculated.
. . . snip . . .