Rose of Dutcher's Coolly

By Hamlin Garland

Introduced and edited by Keith Newlin


Although 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. 

At the 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.

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back from Rose of Dutcher's Coolly, by Hamlin Garland, introduced and edited by Keith Newlin (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005).