Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Son of the Middle Border (Twentiety-Century Classics)
A Son of the Middle Border 

"The realist or veritist is really an optimist, a dreamer. He sees life in terms of what it might be, as well as in terms of what is; but he writes of what is, and, at his best, suggests what is to be, by contrast. He aims to be perfectly truthful of his relation to life, but there is a tone, a color, which comes unconsciously into his utterance, like the sobbing stir of the muted violins beneath the frank, clear song of the clarinet. . . . "  - Hamlin Garland, Crumbling Idols

My fond memories of growing up in Wisconsin create a warm place in my heart for A Son of the Middle Border, a memoir about growing up on the mid-western frontier by Hamlin Garland.   In it he captures the essence of the place and time that was already a memory during my boyhood. He does this through advocacy of a form of realism that blended the realist's insistence upon verisimilitude of detail with the impressionist's tendency to paint objects as they appear to his individual eye. He uses local color in his work giving it a quality of texture and background that it could not have been written in any other place or by any one less than a native. Garland distinguishes between local color that is added on from that which comes from the writer's experience: "local color must not be put in for the sake of local color. It must go in, it will go in, because the writer naturally carries it with him half unconsciously, or conscious only of its significance, its interest to him" (CI 54). So Garland's perspective is, like that of many realists, that one writes of what one knows. The veritist differed from the realist, Garland claimed, in his insistence upon the centrality of the artist's individual vision: the artist should paint life as he sees it. In doing this he brings his world alive for the reader. I think this depiction of a region's characters, customs, and textures of life creates an interesting read even for those who do not share a personal connection with the beauty of Midwestern life.

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