Notes from the Century Before Critical Context - Essay

Edward Hoagland

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Notes from the Century Before is written in a distinctly American literary context deriving from the nature writing of Henry David Thoreau. The writer in this context is typically an isolated figure developing in great detail the sense of an actual place. As Thoreau became synonymous with Walden Pond, Hoagland’s two months of observation on the Stikine River by Telegraph Creek established a similar identity: “This is my Mississippi. I love it as I have never loved any piece of land or any other scene.” The literary tradition from which this work springs includes the travel books of Herman Melville, Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi (1883), Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa (1935), and the work of writers contemporaneous with Hoagland, such as John McPhee (Coming into the Country, 1977), Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, 1968), and Peter Matthiessen (Men’s Lives: The Surfmen and Baymen of the South Fork, 1986). While Thoreau could imagine a vastness of unexplored country to the west, recent nature writers are concerned with the end of the American frontier.

Placing Hoagland firmly in such a milieu is a generalization which familiarity with his work will both confirm and blur. He is an oddball, an original, a unique voice, and his searching out of other one-of-a-kinds shows that his subject is life itself, in whatever vital manifestations he finds it....

(The entire section is 550 words.)