William Dean Howells

William Dean Howells : An American Life

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  • Hardback
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Product details

  • Hardback | 371 pages
  • 160.02 x 238.76 x 40.64mm | 839.14g
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P
  • New York, United Kingdom
  • Ill.
  • 0151421773
  • 9780151421770

Review Text

William Dean Howells was the first of the great American novelists who were seduced by the dream of material success which swept the country after the Civil War. He came from shabby, genteel circumstances, longed for "the pleasures which other sages pretend are so vapid," and through ambition, talent, and that indigenous vulgarity popularly known as "gumption" or "rugged individualism," reached the peak of worldliness and fame during the Gilded Age in Boston and New York. But he was, as Professor Lynn demonstrates in his definitive, if spiritlessly written, biography, a woefully complex figure whose seeming self-satisfaction always masked his inner doubts and anxieties. When he died in 1920, Mencken had already mocked him as "The Dean"; later, even Sinclair Lewis, whose Babbitt could never have existed without the example of Howells' Silas Lapham, demolished him in his Nobel Prize speech at Stockholm in 1930. Studying both the man's character and the changing society of his day, Lynn presents Howells as an exemplary literary figure, creating works of fiction which consciously or not were forever mirroring the battle between the novelist's aesthetic integrity and his deep need for public acceptance and recognition. Howells' two great friends, Henry James and Mark Twain, underline his divided nature: the first urging him on towards lonely truths and salvation through art, the second preaching the populist ideal. Never fully attuned either to the Boston Brahmins or the commercial ethos, bogged down with a neurasthenic wife and a sickly daughter, endlessly proliferating book after book to pay his bills, Howells, not surprisingly, suffered from periodic breakdowns. In his later years, he sought redemption through professing a Tolstoyan simplicity as well as defending the Haymarket anarchists, His is a crucial case in American literature: the embattled, conscience-stricken climber at bay. (Kirkus Reviews)
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