In his 1970 essay “Home Is Two Places” Edward Hoagland describes the two “complicated, quite disparate” branches of his family. On the side of his father, Warren Eugene Hoagland, he traces his ancestors—mostly farmers—to Brooklyn in prerevolutionary days and later to the American Midwest. The family of his mother, Helen Hoagland, the Morleys, came to the New World later than the Hoaglands; by 1900 they were, in the words of Edward Hoagland, “worthy people with fat family businesses.” These impeccable middle-American credentials provide Hoagland with a foundation for a varied commentary upon life and landscape in the United States.
Hoagland grew up in the suburbs of New York City and at first attended St. Bernard’s, which he calls “an English-type school”; he later went to Deerfield Academy, a college preparatory school in Massachusetts. He seems to have been a troubled child, perhaps as a consequence of suffering from asthma and a stutter. The latter affliction remained with him, but not without positive consequences, according to Hoagland, who judges his fluency in writing as partly a compensation for lack of ease in conversation. In his nonfiction Hoagland frequently draws attention to his stutter, and in his fiction he gives his characters various idiosyncrasies that seem almost its equivalent.
Hoagland’s first novel, Cat Man, was accepted for publication before Hoagland’s graduation from Harvard University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1954. In 1956 the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, awarded the novel a literary fellowship, the first of many awards that Hoagland received for his work. Cat Man is a highly detailed and sometimes violent account of traveling-circus life told from the viewpoint of a young hobo nicknamed “Fiddle,” who tends the lions, tigers, and leopards in their cages. The work did not reach a wide audience, which is also true of his second novel, The Circle Home, and his third, The Peacock’s Tail. The Circle Home is, like Cat Man, concerned with subjects that later preoccuped Hoagland in his essays. The novel’s main character, Danny Kelly, is a prizefighter with a troubled marriage whose efforts at fidelity and sobriety seem doomed. The protagonist of The Peacock’s Tail, Ben Pringle, is an antihero somewhat in the mold of J. D. Salinger’s character Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Hoagland’s attempt to seem timely and demotic in this novel are atypical of his work as a whole.
Hoagland’s next book, Notes from the Century Before, was the result of two visits to the western Canadian province of British Columbia in the mid-1960’s—first a period of residence in a small town in the interior of the province and, soon after, a summer’s travels in the northwestern part of the province following a divorce from his first wife (to whom he had been married and divorced once before). Hoagland’s...
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