Book Review: Prairie Folks by Hamlin Garland

I’m on a forage at present of 19th century American books whose discoveries has included slightly odd writer Hamlin Garland’s Prairie Folks.

Hamlin Garland

Hamlin Garland

Garland intended with this unbalanced collection of stories set in rural Iowa to provide realistic glimpses of life in the kind of region he grew up in and to promote his conception of ideal social arrangement (Georgism) by way of painting country folk as poor, pitiful, childlike savages (the people he grew up with) by comparison to dignified, fashionable, art-loving city folk (such as what he became after moving to “the city”). I’m as much a believer in the social contract (presently non-existent in the U.S., although it was intrinsic to the society of our Puritan founders) as the next enlightened balding dude, but Hamlin’s peculiar take on rural folk in some of the stories as, on one hand, the “romanticized primitives,” while, on the other, as “disadvantaged hicks deserving our pity,” both in the service of social reform, rubbed me wrong, and wrongly.

Despite it feeling like a book written by seven bad authors when it was in fact written by only one mediocre-to-good writer, I’m still happy I read it. An interesting artifact from a time of turbulent changes in American society.

***

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