It’s almost a forgone conclusion, given that Harkless starts the story off as a hero, that things will come to a violent pass. The tension arises from these questions: How will Harkless come to harm? What will he do to survive? Who is Helen Sherwood? What past does she share with Harkless? Who will get elected to Congress?
This “Heartland Realist Romance” creates and fleshes out not only the fictional Carlow County’s Plattville and Six-Cross-Roads but also incorporates Rouen, the setting for The Two Van Revels (1902). It’s intriguing to wonder what might have come of this conception had Tarkington not gone abroad; and one wonders about the extent to which Tarkington influenced both Anderson and Faulkner.
The Final Word takes the big-picture view of Tarkington’s body of work, and there are indeed themes that are very characteristic of his work. A good many of them (though not all them), naturally, make their first appearance in Gentleman; and several more of them find their way into his early novels only to settle to the bottom of the barrel (or dissipate completely) by the time Tarkington’s craft fully matures.
First published by Doubleday & McClure, October 14, 1899. Priced at $1.50. 5,000 copies in first printing. First state of first edition includes publication date of 1899 on the title page (later printings, 1900), and the ear of corn on the spine points up. Also three states of text in this binding, with earliest on page 291, line 7 reading brainy bumps where later printings read a square brow. See Russo and Sullivan for complete collation of first edition.