Genre and Mode

Heartland Realist Romance. While The Gentleman From Indiana was written while Tarkington was primarily in his Romance Novel period, this novel and The Two Van Revels both share features of what might be called Tarkington’s Heartland Realism, particularly those of the period of his Growth series.

So there’s a good bit of the historical novel feel on display, overlaid with characters spouting rather arch dialogue (”Don’t say good-by—I can say it for both of us. God bless you—and good-by, good-by, good-by!” [149] ) that veers off into outright melodrama (From horizon to horizon rolled clouds contorted like an illimitable field of inverted haystacks, and beneath them enormous volumes of pale vapor were tumbling in the west, advancing eastward with a sinister swiftness… She cried aloud to him with all her strength… [149]). The melodramatic bent of the tale is also on display in Tarkington’s narrative editorializing (…the unattainable was now like a hot sting in the heart, but yet a sting more precious than a balm [293]) and overwrought omniscience (…losing her, he lost not everything, for he had the rare blessing of having known her [351]).

Still, the novel also contains some of Tarkington’s finest prose—for instance: “A plaintive waltz-refrain from the house ran through the blue woof of starlit air as a sad-colored thread through the tapestry of night…” [303]—and the denouement steadfastly withholds the romantic payoff until Tarkington the thematicist ensures that the reader understands the point of the story, nearly buried in the wrapping up of over-convoluted loose ends. This is not hick-Romance-by-the-numbers, not by any stretch of the imagination.

In fact, the Romance is rather self-conscious, with the narrator and the characters themselves remarking on their own susceptibilities and inclinations. Harkless demonstrates his through his self-conscious repartee: “The truth is that you were a lady of the court of Clovis, and I was a heathen captive. I heard you sing a Christian hymn—and asked for baptism” [80]. Helen outright acknowledges her own: “I am a sentimental girl. If you are born so, it is never entirely teased out of you, is it?” [81]. The narrator comments on Fisbee’s “glamor of romance” [11], an image reinforced by his daughter’s description: “He had no friends; he was hungry and desperate, and he wandered. I was dancing and going about wearing jewels…” [381].

Perhaps the most interesting mode of expression exhibited in this novel is the fictional setting for the story. In a fashion that anticipates Sherwood Anderson by 20 years and William Faulker by nearly 40, it appears that Tarkington was crafting a fictional community as large as “Carlow County.” Gentleman creates and fleshes out not only Carlow’s Plattville and Six-Cross-Roads but also incorporates Rouen, the setting for The Two Van Revels (1902). It’s even possible that, in his own mind, the titular town of The Conquest of Canaan (1905) was part of this landscape. It’s intriguing to wonder what might have come of this conception had Tarkington not contracted typhoid and gone abroad to convalesce; and one wonders about the extent to which Tarkington influenced both Anderson and Faulkner.

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