The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

VI. The Short Story

§ 24. Garland; Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

So completely was local colour the vogue of the eighties that the novelist was regarded as a kind of specialist who moved in a narrow field of his own and who was to be reprimanded if he stepped beyond its limits. The movement had three phases: first, the Irvingesque school that romanticized its material and threw over it a softened light,—Harte, Miss Jewett, Cable, Page; second, the exhibitors of strange material objectively presented,—Charles Egbert Craddock, Octave Thanet, and the dialect recorders of the eighties; and third, the veritists of the nineties who told what they considered to be the unidealized truth concerning the life they knew,—Garland, Miss Wilkins, Frank Norris, and the rest. This third group approached its task scientifically, stated its doctrines with clearness,—as for example in Hamlin Garland’s Crumbling Idols,—and then proceeded to work out its careful pictures with deliberate art. Garland’s Main-Travelled Roads, stories of the settlement period of the Middle Border, have no golden light upon them. They tell the truth with brutal directness and they tell it with an art that convinces. They are not mere stories; they are living documents in the history of the West. So with the Maupassant-like pictures of later New England conditions by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, in A Humble Romance (1887) and A New England Nun (1891). If the florid, sentimental school of the mid-century went to one extreme, she went to the other. Nowhere in English may one find more of repression, more pitiless studies of repressed lives, more bare searchings into the soul of a decadent social system. She wrote with conviction and a full heart of the life from which she herself had sprung, yet she held herself so firmly in control that her pictures are as sharp and cold as engravings on steel.