In 1897, the book was published by D. Appleton and Company. The story takes place at the turn of the 20th century in New England. Widely known for producing local color fiction, Garland drifted toward a more progressive, realistic style in his later works including A Member of the Third House. The story revolves around a local politician and his conquest to destroy a railroad monopoly. The overarching plot is a clear representation of Garland’s political opinions. Yet, the novel addresses many important issues at the time, which contribute to its importance in the field of American literature.
The story begins in a New England metropolis. Two men are engaged in a conversation involving politics. Wilson Tuttle is a local politician who has just submitted a bill to charge an annual rent for street franchises. He has also carried a resolution to have the methods of the Consolidated Railway investigated. The Consolidated Railway owns railways in multiple cities throughout New England. The company is attempting to secure a charter to become a monopoly. The Consolidated Railway has been using the Third House to gain political support. A corrupt political group, the Third House exists between the people and the legislation. The members’ support is purchased through bribes. Following his brief conversation with Mr. Holbrook, Mr. Tuttle accompanies Evelyn Ward and Helene Davis for some ice cream. Evelyn is the daughter of Senator Rufus Ward, and Helene is the daughter of Lawrence Davis, the president of Consolidated Railway. Lawrence Davis, commonly referred to as the Iron Duke, is in charge of the Third House trustees of the road. His cohorts consist of lobbyist Tom Brennan and attorney Samuel Fox.
At the office of Tom Brennan and Samuel Fox, two legislators arrive for a meeting. Mr. Brennan supplies the two men food and liquor. He desires to gain their political support through the means of a bribe. His efforts are fruitful and he instructs the men to pay their money to Hilliard’s, a local bar acting as home base for the Third House. Following the departure of the two legislators, Evelyn and Helene stop by to say hello to Brennan. After hearing Tuttle discuss the Third House, the women ask Brennan what he knows. He vaguely answers the question and Helene tells him how much her father praises his work. Brennan goes on to explain his thirst for power. He compares controlling the railways to controlling an army. Brennan also expresses his desire to become the superintendent of Consolidated Railways.
Later that afternoon, Lawrence Davis and Samuel Fox discuss the recent state of their company. Although he appreciates his work ethic, Davis is worried about Brennan and his extreme thirst for power. Davis originally bought the Third House to support the new movement for his railways. However, he does not know how to proceed and is skeptical of Brennan’s intentions. The men discuss the problematic activities of Tuttle. They know that Tuttle cannot be fixed like many other politicians. Their charter must be passed before Tuttle’s bill.
Evelyn’s father, Senator Rufus Ward arrives at Brennan’s office. Desperately seeking money for an investment, he begs for Brennan’s help. Tom offers Ward money in exchange for his support. Although Ward opposes the proposed notion, his tough financial situation causes him to rethink matters. Upon Davis’s arrival, Brennan makes it clear that he wants to be an official stockholder in the Consolidate Railway. He threatens to destroy Davis if his wish fails to be granted.
Later that night, Tuttle, Brennan and numerous other politicians are having a Hillard House. Tuttle explains to a companion that he has a joint committee to investigate the activities of the Consolidated Railway. However, he addresses the need for an inside source. The investigation is stagnant due to lack of evidence.
Driven away by the summer heat, many people relocated to the popular summer getaway of Waterside. Both Lawrence Davis and Senator Ward own property here and Brennan and Tuttle have made the trip for the weekend. Brennan, Tuttle, Evelyn, and Helene engage in a friendly game of tennis. Throughout the tennis game, the two men continually point out each other’s flaws to Helene. Brennan attempts to propose to Helene, however she says she needs time. Later, Tuttle warns Helene about how he believes Brennan is using her and her father for personal gains. After dinner, Tuttle stumbles upon Mr. Davis and Mr. Fox. Tuttle’s evidence has recently been published in the newspapers and Davis and Fox express their rage. Despite their anger with him, Tuttle stays strong to his beliefs and claims he will proceed with the investigation.
Born in the country, Senator Ward was a simple man. His father was a carpenter and an alcoholic, a curse that Ward carried with him. Ward was an astute businessman never charged with anything except for his timid nature. Following his meeting with Brennan, his wife received a cloudy eyed, purple-faced Ward. Clearly, the meeting had taken an emotional toll on the Senator. Tuttle stops by the Ward residence to have a few words with the Senator. Mrs. Ward informs him of the current state of her husband, so Tuttle and Evelyn decide to take a walk on this warm summer evening. The two discuss Helene’s relationship with Brennan and Evelyn displays her affection for Tuttle.
Tuttle’s investigation has his the papers and some of his opposition is experiencing a change of heart. The public is coming to the realization that great corporations dominate the legislative halls. Regardless, the support for Tuttle is minimal and others opposing him believe that he is trying to turn the American people against the legislators. His own, local paper is even against him uncovering the power of money in this time. One of Tuttle’s companions attempts to convince him to drop the investigation. His reasoning is if the public can withstand the current corrupt situation, they can too. A tenacious Tuttle insists on the continuation of the investigation. His next target is Pat Murnahn: a covert member of the Third House and a possible inside source. Tuttle yearns for more people to speak out against the Third House. In order for the success of the investigation, he must find further evidence. Tuttle is approached by an employee of the establishment who suggests he should turn his focus to Senator Ward. Supposedly, Ward has been bribed and his timid nature might make him the prime target for the investigation. Tuttle leaves the bar after receiving some encouraging advice. The mystery employee tells Tuttle a man who fights the monopolies is usually right.
Senator Ward is clearly a vulnerable man. He and his wife are currently in a rough financial situation because of debt. Davis arrives at the Senator’s house and the two discuss their worries for Tuttle. Davis explains without Ward’s contribution the construction of their new railway would be delayed for at least ten years. Davis offers to take control of half of Ward’s business in addition to making him a stockholder in exchange for his contribution. Following Davis’ departure, Tuttle arrives to interrogate Ward. Tuttle explains to Ward that Senators have been bribed by members of the Third House, while under the influence of alcohol. Tuttle makes it clear that if Ward does not betray his colleagues, he will be betraying the state. Finally Ward succumbs to Tuttle’s questioning and admits he indeed accepted a bribe.
The investigation has finally reached the courthouse. Members of both parties stream into courthouse. Tuttle sees Ward and Evelyn arrive and take their seats inside. Ward looks sicker than ever however he insists on testifying in front of the joint committee. Once court is in session, Brennan is one of the first called to the stand. The Attorney General questions him regarding the activities of the Third House and his role in the bribing scandal. A calm and collected Brennan claims his duties with the Third House are legitimate and he denies all bribery charges. Davis is the next witness called to the stand. It becomes apparent that Davis recently bought out the Electric Motor Line for $100,000. Davis also admits that at least forty members of the Third House received bribes but does not know of any money actually paid to the house. He then lies about promising stocks and official positions with his company for political leverage. Rufus Ward is the final witness called to the stand. After his opening statement, Ward says he was offered $10,000 by Brennan and an additional $50,000 from Davis if he withdrew his opposition.
Following the trial, Tuttle discovers he won. The last item on the committee’s agenda is determining if any Senators need to be impeached. Tuttle is overjoyed yet worried about the condition of Ward. Upon hearing the news, Tuttle rushes to see Ward. He believes that Ward will not be criminally charged and instead recognized for his heroism. Tuttle then proceeds to visit with Helene to make sure she is ok. She greets him with a confused sense of joy and the two proceed to have dinner. They receive a telegram from Davis reassuring Helene that he will be fine.
Davis, Brennan, and Fox have all been released on bail. Alone in his home, Davis uses this time to reflect on his past actions. The old man begins to realize that everything around him is falling apart. Brennan and Fox are nowhere to be found and he thinks they have skipped town. Anxiety takes over Davis’s mind with the thought his daughter will soon be married and out of his life as well. He takes his revolver out of his desk and imagines the easy way out.
In the bar of a local hotel, Brennan has a casual drink while talking with the bartender, a friend of Brennan’s. The bartender notifies Brennan he is being followed by a detective. Brennan immediately sneaks out to the sanctuary of another hotel across town. Here he collects some necessary supplies and changes his appearance. He appears to be planning a quick getaway. After leaving this hotel, Brennan travels to see Davis. Brennan delivers Davis the unfortunate news that members of the Third House are skipping town as quickly as possible. An infuriated Davis plans to fight back. Davis believes he was wrongly forced into the bribery scandal by the current condition of the legislation. However, Brennan thinks the only option is to skip town. He proceeds to inform Davis that they could be sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Brennan says he has a boat waiting and Davis needs to come with him. Davis remains indecisive and Brennan sneaks out the back door. After a few thoughtful moments, Davis reaches for his gun and takes his life. Meanwhile, Brennan reaches the docks and breaks out into a joyous song as he boards the boat to freedom.
Born on a farm near West Salem, Wisconsin on September 14, 1860, Hamlin Garland was an American novelist best known for his fiction involving mid-western farmers. His early years were spent on various mid-western farms but then settled in Boston, Massachusetts in 1884 to pursue a writing career. His first great success came in 1891 with Main-Travelled Roads. This was a collection of short stories inspired by his days on the farm. A socialist advocator, Garland set up an institution to dispense money to radical, liberal and trade union causes. Many of Garland’s novels were criticized as being overtly political propaganda. Some of these novels include Jason Edwards (1892) and A Member of the Third House (1897). Hamlin Garland was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1922. Garland died on March 4, 1940.
A man of wide reading and of deep enthusiasm, Wilson Tuttle is the moral compass of this novel. An astute student of politics, Tuttle fights the illegitimate actions of the Consolidated Railway and the Third House. He hopes the success of this endeavor will result in his running for Congress. Tuttle also has feelings for Senator Ward’s daughter, Evelyn.
Hailing from a poor Irish background, Tom Brennan achieved success through his deceitful wit and charisma. Following a brief career as a lawyer, Lawrence Davis hired Brennan as a lobbyist for the railroad company. His addiction to power leads Brennan to manipulate Davis in hopes of becoming the superintendent of the company. Brennan also maintains a relationship with Davis’s daughter, Helene, throughout the novel.
Lawrence Davis is the powerful President of the Consolidated Railway. Davis bought political support from the Third House to monopolize his business. Despite involvement with corrupt politics, Davis is a righteous man at heart. This becomes clear when he takes his life after reminiscing about his past decisions. He is also the father of Helene Davis.
The daughter of Lawrence Davis, Helene is a jovial young lady. She maintains a relationship with Tom Brennan throughout the novel. Despite being at the center of the political scandal, Helene’s naïve nature creates distance between her and the situation at stake.
Rufus Ward is a Senator as well as the owner of a struggling business. An upstanding citizen, his only negative trait is his timid nature. Financial struggles forced him to become involved with the Third House conspiracy. Regardless, at Tuttle’s request, Ward is the only one to turn against the Third House. Unlike many of the other politicians in this novel, Ward becomes the hero by staying true to his values even if it leads to his demise. He is also the father of Evelyn Ward.
The daughter of Rufus Ward, Evelyn is a friend with Helene, Brennan and Tuttle. Like her father, she is a moral, selfless woman. Evelyn assists Tuttle in convincing Ward to testify in court against the Third House. Evelyn is also very fond of Tuttle.
A product of the realist literary movement, Hamlin Garland applies his political views to his writing. Diverting from romanticism, literary realism places importance on honesty, integrity and the rise of the common man. Set in post-Civil War New England, A Member of the Third House is a story of political warfare. Garland portrays this time as an era of decayed social and moral values poisoned with cynicism, greed and the pursuit of pleasure. Throughout the novel, Garland develops strong characters that embody the realist perspective. Furthermore, Garland couples his realist writing style with his political views. The populist outlook Garland holds urges social and political system changes that benefit the general population. The ultimate demise of the railroad monopoly and those involved epitomize Garland’s political and realist views. Wilson Tuttle and Senator Ward represent the realist hero in this novel. The characters involved with the railroad business are depicted in a more romantic fashion. The realist hero cannot thrive until the heroic, self-devoted, old romantics are defeated. Garland is in fact the narrator of this story and through his writing and voice, populist and realist ideals represent the underlying themes of the novel. Garland was the father of “veritism”. This term describes his method of composing fiction. Veritism was a form of realism that blended the realist’s insistence upon verisimilitude of detail. Garland tended to depict objects as they appear to his individual eye. An interesting aspect of A Member of the Third House was Garland’s portrayal of women. There were only two female characters in the story and held relatively minor roles. In many of his local color fiction works, Garland describes the female characters in a negative light. Although A Member of the Third House is not one of Garland’s prototypical local color stories, he depicts the women in a similar manner. The women in the story are uneducated and naïve. Garland never discloses the age of the two characters. Based on their respective descriptions, they could easily be mistaken for children. In contrast, the male characters are much more emotionally and intellectually developed, hinting towards Garland’s realist (veritist) perspective.
Being one of Hamlin Garland’s less famous works, no real criticism for A Member of the Third House exists. However, Garland’s writing style has been thoroughly analyzed throughout the years. Classified as a realist, Garland strongly affirmed distaste for the treatment of romantic passion in fiction. This notion clearly appears in A Member of the Third House. A host of male characters dominate the story while the few female characters retain a limited role. Garland’s abundant affectionate recollections of male comrades suggest that he was incapable of exploring publicly the importance of heterosexual intercourse. This attitude could, of course, be simply a continuation of the nineteenth-century attitudes of masculine dominance in a society. Although there is a foundation in A Member of the Third House for heterosexual romance, Garland dismisses the opportunity, placing his focus on the real, political issues at stake. Nevertheless, Garland provides countless vivid descriptions of his male characters and their interactions effectively weave together the story.