Friday, September 21, 2012

A Son of the Middle Border by Hamlin Garland

Free US/UK Kindle Classic
American author Hamlin Garland won the 1922 Pulitzer Prize for biography with A Daughter of the Middle Border.  That is not the book I am suggesting here.  The forward for that book said:

"First of all, you must grant that the glamor of childhood, the glories of the Civil War, the period of prairie conquest which were the chief claims to interest in the first volume of my chronicle can not be restated in these pages. The action of this book moves forward into the light of manhood, into the region of middle age. Furthermore, its theme is more personal. Its scenes are less epic."

He goes on to say this book will answer questions raised by his autobiography, A Son of the Middle Border.  (US Edition)  (UK Edition)  So, of course I thought that it would be better to read his first book before his award winning book.  Awards are often given one  book too late anyway.  A book is belatedly recognized as a classic, so the author's next book gets the award the first book should have gotten!  Well you will have to decide whether that is the case here.The book, written in 1917, begins with a tea leaf reading late in the American Civil War:

"A soldier is coming to you!" she says to my mother. "See," and she points into the cup. We all crowd near, and I perceive a leaf with a stem sticking up from its body like a bayonet over a man's shoulder. "He is almost home," the widow goes on. Then with sudden dramatic turn she waves her hand toward the road, "Heavens and earth!" she cries. "There's Richard now!" We all turn and look toward the road, and there, indeed, is a soldier with a musket on his back, wearily plodding his way up the low hill just north of the gate.

That is a promising beginning!

The term "middle border" is a new one to me.  Garland uses it to refer to the prairie states of Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.  I think it was a term he created, but it could have been a term in use at the time.  At one point he mentions the middle border has moved west 300 miles.  These states in the middle of the country, all Midwestern states, were initially territories.  They were added successively as states as they became populated by settlers (and depopulated of their original inhabitants, the Indians.)  So perhaps this was the name for the border of the U.S. which was in the middle of the country.  This middle border crept westward across the area that had been leapfrogged when gold was discovered in California to meet the state of California.  California obtained statehood "out of order" so to speak.

Well, I went a little off topic, but as a Midwesterner, who knows this area is neglected in contemporary literature and is disparaged as Flyover Country, I wanted to know why someone would title his biography, A Son of the Middle Border.  

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