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Edward (Morley) Hoagland Biography

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Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 1932. Education: Deerfield Academy; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1950-54, A.B. 1954. Military Service: Served in the United States Army, 1955-57. Career: Taught at the New School for Social Research, New York, 1963-64, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1966, Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, 1967 and 1971, City College, New York, 1967-68, University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1978 and 1982, Columbia University, New York, 1980-81, Bennington College, Vermont, 1987-95, and University of California, Davis, 1990 and 1992. Editorial writer, New York Times, 1979-89. Since 1985 general editor, Penguin Nature Library, New York. Awards: Houghton Mifflin fellowship, 1956; Longview Foundation award, 1961; Guggenheim fellowship, 1964, 1975; American Academy traveling fellowship, 1964, and Vursell Memorial award, 1981; O. Henry award, 1971; New York State Council on the Arts fellowship, 1972; Brandeis University citation, 1972; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1982; New York Public Library Literary Lion award, 1988, 1996; National Magazine award, 1989; Lannan fellowship, 1993; Literary Lights Award, Boston Public Library, 1995. Member: American Academy, 1982.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Cat Man. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1956.

The Circle Home. New York, Crowell, 1960.

The Peacock's Tail. New York, McGraw Hill, 1965.

Seven Rivers West. New York, Summit, 1986.

Short Stories

City Tales, with Wyoming Stories, by Gretel Ehrlich. Santa Barbara, California, Capra Press, 1986.

The Final Fate of the Alligators. Santa Barbara, California, CapraPress, 1992.

Other

Notes from the Century Before: A Journal from British Columbia. New York, Random House, 1969.

The Courage of Turtles: Fifteen Essays about Compassion, Pain, and Love. New York, Random House, 1971.

Walking the Dead Diamond River (essays). New York, RandomHouse, 1973.

The Moose on the Wall: Field Notes from the Vermont Wilderness. London, Barrie and Jenkins, 1974.

Red Wolves and Black Bears (essays). New York, Random House, 1976.

African Calliope: A Journey to the Sudan. New York, RandomHouse, 1979; London, Penguin, 1981; with a new afterword by the author, New York, Lyons & Burford, 1995.

The Edward Hoagland Reader, edited by Geoffrey Wolff. New York, Random House, 1979.

The Tugman's Passage (essays). New York, Random House, 1982.

Heart's Desire: The Best of Edward Hoagland. New York, Summit, 1988; London, Collins, 1990.

Balancing Acts (essays). New York, Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Balancing Acts: Essays. New York, Lyons Press, 1999.

Tigers & Ice: Reflections on Nature and Life. New York, Lyons Press, 1999.

Editor, The Circus of Dr. Lao, by Charles Finney. New York, Vintage, 1983.

Editor, The Mountains of California, by John Muir. New York andLondon, Penguin, 1985.

Editor, The Maine Woods, by Henry David Thoreau. New York, Penguin, 1988.

Editor, Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. New York, Vintage, 1991.

Editor, Steep Trails, by John Muir. Sierra Club, 1994.

* * *

In the years since he published his first novel, Cat Man (1956), Edward Hoagland has gradually developed a reputation as one of America's leading essayists and a distinctive creator of fiction about both city life and the wilderness. His circus and boxing novels have been labeled required reading for those interested in these activities. In all his novels and many of his short stories, he shows a detailed, often first-hand knowledge of occupations where brawn or physical skills are more important than intellect. His essay, "Big Cats," is a deft description of the cat family; Cat Man is a novel of circus life that contains sordid but not unrealistic detail about the human struggles unseen by the spectators; and The Circle Home is a novel full of information about the training of boxers and life among the destitute. In his third but not best novel, The Peacock's Tail, he still shows an interest in the lower classes, for the protagonist is a young white man who gradually loses cultural and racial prejudice as he works among the urban poor. In his most recent novel, Seven Rivers West, a small group of white men and two women make an arduous journey through the Canadian west.

His prose style, though varied, is often unembellished, staccato, and unpretentious; yet since his narrators and central characters are usually lower class people, relatively uneducated and inarticulate, the straightforward colloquial prose is appropriate. In its direct, deflationary tone, the beginning of his short story, "The Final Fate of the Alligators," is a succinct introduction to most of his main characters: "In such a crowded, busy world the service each man performs is necessarily a small one. Arnie Bush's was no exception." Yet the lack of subtle, intellectual prose does not mean that the author offers no insights. A description of leopards in motion ends, for example, with a deft comment: "Really, leopards are like machines. They move in a sort of perpetual motion. Their faces don't change; they eat the same way, sleep the same way, pace much the same as each other. Their bodies are constructed as ideally as a fish's for moving and doing, for action, and not much room is left for personality." Regrettably, the final clause may aptly be applied to his characters, for many of them are so busy learning survival techniques in an uncaring world that their personalities are never fully developed. We may believe in them, but we are not always interested in them. The lack of interest sometimes results from the brevity of a character's role or the analysis devoted to it. Thus when characters fall back into self-destructive habits such as self-pity or alcoholism, we feel little sympathy. We impatiently dismiss them as born losers. On reflection, however, we may realize that we lack the compassion that Hoagland has for the urban poor or the uneducated easterner following his dream.

An accurate and just sense of Hoagland's strengths and weaknesses in prose style, narrative technique, characterization, and thought may be obtained from The Circle Home, the story of Denny Kelly, an irresponsible 29-year-old who has failed and continues to fail as a prize fighter and husband. In prose direct and at times colorful, the author demonstrates a close knowledge of the world of third-rate boxers.

A lively fight: One-hand found occasion to maneuver into every foot the ring provided. He'd be close, mining in the belly, and spring back with a lithe light antelope-type movement. Often when his left returned from thrusts his arms dropped by his sides to balance him. Those leaps, narrow body straight upright and turning in the air to face the way he wanted, were the essence of his style….

The author seems intent, not upon muckraking, but upon having readers understand the world of boxers and boxing. The reader comes to know Denny through the straight chronological flow of his attempted comeback, and through a series of flashbacks that chronicle his irresponsible and immature behavior as a husband and father. In re-creating the flow of events Hoagland shows a keen ear for dialogue. The end of the novel, however, is weak: Denny, contrite yet once more, phones to inform his wife that he is determined (because of his miseries) to return and to be henceforth a good family man. The title, The Circle Home, suggests that at last he will be truly home, but because he has failed so often before and has shown no true deep reformation, the reader may prophesy further backsliding. If we are meant to view Denny's future optimistically, the author's compassion for the dwellers in the "lower depths" has led him to a sentimental conclusion.

Seven Rivers West contains some of Hoagland's best fictional writing. Set in the Canadian west of the 1880s, not yet settled by Europeans, though it has been touched by them, it gives a vivid and detailed look at the white men pressing on with their railroad and seeking their future in the territory of the Indians, some of whom are still defiant, others already tainted by an alien civilization. Hoagland makes us appreciate both the energy and activities of the native people, and the magnificent challenge of the landscape. John Updike rightly praised it for being "wonder-ful." The conclusion of the novel, however, is somewhat disappointing in its treatment of Cecil Roop's capture of a bear he has long sought and the depiction of the mythic Bigfoot.

From his works as a whole, Hoagland appears as a careful writer who, steeped in firsthand knowledge of his material, attempts with some humor and considerable compassion to show us men and women struggling first to survive and then to improve themselves or the world. There is, indeed, a definite sense of the author's feelings and involvement in the fiction and essays. (One reviewer objected to Hoagland exposing his neuroses in his travel essays.) But Hoagland does not hesitate to acknowledge the autobiographical aspects of his fiction. In the foreword to City Tales, he says:

I found at the end of the 1960s that what I wanted to do most was to tell my own story; and by the agency of my first book of nonfiction, Notes From the Century Before—which began as a diary intended only to fuel my next novel—I discovered that the easiest way to do so was by writing directly to the reader without filtering myself through the artifices of fiction. By the time another decade had passed, however, I was sick of telling my own story and went back to inventing other people's, in a novel I hope will be finished before this book you are holding comes out.

Because Hoagland has the skill to make vivid the plight of the unprivileged, whether in the city or in the wilderness, he deserves the esteem that has gradually gained during his writing career.

—James A. Hart

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