Howells by ashrafp


									William Dean Howells

   author, editor,
   and critic
--Donna M. Campbell, Gonzaga University

               Born on 1 March 1837 in
               Howells worked as a typesetter
                and a printer’s apprentice,
                educating himself through
                intensive reading and the study of
                Spanish, French, Latin, and
               After a term as city editor of the
                Ohio State Journal in 1858,
                Howells published poems, stories,
                and reviews in the Atlantic
                Monthly and other magazines.
   A longer work, his campaign biography for Abraham
    Lincoln, earned him enough money to travel to New
    England and meet the great literary figures of the day—
    Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry
    David Thoreau, James Russell Lowell, and Walt
    Whitman among them.
   Awarded the post of U. S. Consul to Venice in 1861 for
    his service to the Lincoln campaign, Howells lived in
    Italy for nearly four years.
   During his residence there, he married Elinor Mead
    Howells in 1862, and by 1872 the couple had three
    children: Winifred (b. 1863), John Mead (b. 1868), and
    Mildred (b. 1872).
   After leaving Venice, Howells became first the assistant
    editor (1866-71) and then the editor (1871-1881) of the
    Atlantic Monthly, a post that gave him
    enormous influence as an arbiter of American taste.
   Publishing work by authors such as Mark Twain and
    Henry James, both of whom would become personal
    friends, Howells became a proponent of American
    realism, and his defense of Henry James in an article
    for The Century (1882) provoked what was called the
    “Realism War,” with writers on both sides of the
    Atlantic ocean debating the merits of realistic and
    romantic fiction.
   While writing the “Editor’s Study” (1886-1892) and “Editor’s Easy
    Chair” (1899-1909) for Harper’s          New Monthly Magazine
    and occasional pieces for The       North American Review,
    Howells championed the work of many writers, including Emily
    Dickinson, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Hamlin Garland,
    Sarah Orne Jewett, Charles W. Chesnutt, Frank Norris,
    Paul Laurence Dunbar, Abraham Cahan, and Stephen
   He was also responsible for promoting such European authors as
    Ibsen, Zola, Pérez Galdós, Verga, and Tolstoy.
   Despite Howells’s professional success, his personal life during this period
    was marred in 1889 by the premature death of his daughter Winifred, whose
    physical symptoms were misdiagnosed as resulting from a nervous disorder
    and were ineffectively treated.
   After the execution of the Haymarket
    radicals in 1887, which he risked his
    reputation to protest, Howells became
    increasingly concerned with social issues,
    as seen in stories such as “Editha” (1905)
    and novels concerned with race (An
    Imperative Duty, 1892), the problems of
    labor (Annie Kilburn, 1888), and
    professions for women (The Coast of
    Bohemia, 1893).
   Widely acknowledged during the late nineteenth and early
    twentieth centuries as the “Dean   of American
    Letters,” Howells was elected the first president of the
    American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1908, which
    instituted its Howells Medal for Fiction in 1915.
   By the time of his death from pneumonia on 11 May 1920,
    Howells was still respected for his position in American
   However, his later novels did not achieve the success of
    his early realistic work, and later authors such as Sinclair
    Lewis denounced Howells’s fiction and his influence as
    being too genteel to represent the real America.
   Although he wrote over a hundred books in various genres, including
    novels, poems, literary criticism, plays, memoirs, and travel narratives,
    Howells is best known today for his realistic
    fiction, including A Modern Instance (1881), on the then-new topic
    of the social consequences of divorce; The Rise of Silas Lapham
    (1885), his best-known work and one of the first novels to study the
    American businessman; and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), an
    exploration of cosmopolitan life in New York City as seen through the
    eyes of Basil and Isabel March, the protagonists of Their Wedding
    Journey (1871) and other works. Other important novels include Dr.
    Breen’s Practice, (1880), The Minister’s Charge and Indian Summer
    (1886), April Hopes (1887), The Landlord at Lion’s Head (1897), and
    The Son of Royal Langbrith (1904).
 Howells remained proud of his Ohio roots
  throughout his life, returning to Columbus for the
  Ohio Centennial Celebration in 1888 and visiting
  his home in Jefferson late into the 1890s.
 In the later part of his career, he drew increasingly
  on his life in Ohio in autobiographical works (A
  Boy’s Town,1890) and novels (The Kentons,
 The legend of a man from Leatherwood Creek,
  Ohio, who convinces the people there that he is a
  god inspired one of Howells’s last works, The
  Leatherwood God (1916).
Criticism and Fiction
 Howells' literary convictions are summed
  up in Criticism and Fiction (1891). He
  stressed the importance of common
  experience and the truthful rendering of
  motives and feelings.
 "Such beauty and such grandeur as we
  have is common beauty, common
  grandeur.... These conditions invite the
  artist to the study and appreciation of
  the common.... The arts must become
  demographic, and then we shall have the
  expression of America in art."
 He believed art must serve morality and
  that it should provide an evaluation of
  character and experience.
 By the time of Howells' death, realism
  was firmly established in American
  fiction. Since then many novelists have
  gone further in portrayal of real
  experience, of economic strife, of
  physical passions, of psychological
 Howells was a "reticent realist,"
  restrained by the conventions of his
  time and by his own propriety and
  discretion. But he marked out the path
  that twentieth-century fiction has
Anti-imperialist Writings

   During their lifetimes, Mark Twain and
    William Dean Howells (1837-1920) were closely
    linked when their anti-imperialist writings
    were considered. In a 1903 tract, The
    Principles of the Founders, Edwin D. Mead,
    the prominent Boston-based anti-imperialist,
    peace advocate, and cousin of Howells's wife,
    highlighted the two writers as representing
    literary anti-imperialism outside of
    Massachusetts. This was natural. Arguably the
    two most prominent and influential literary
    figures of their time, Howells and Twain were
    close friends, and they frequently discussed
    imperialism and the war in the Philippines in
 Howells's association with the anti-
  imperialist movement began as early as April
  of 1898 when he joined Bolton Hall, Henry
  Codman Potter, Ernest H. Crosby, Josephine
  Shaw Lowell and others in "A Peace Appeal to
  Labor" against the Spanish-American War.
 In October of the following year, stating
  that he was "heart and soul" with the
  organization, Howells joined Hall, Crosby,
  Carl Schurz, Henry Van Dyke, and others in
  the short lived American League of New York.
  Asked by the New York Evening Post about his
  support of the American League, Howells
  explained, "I still believe in the
    principle of the 'consent of the
    governed,' as a moral principle which
    is the strength of the republic, and in
 He warned against the dangers of corruption
  and racial antagonism inherent in colonial
  government, and proposed an immediate truce
  during which the United States could propose
  a form of government for the Philippines.
 The American League of New York was soon
  succeeded by the Anti-Imperialist League of
  New York which Howells joined as a vice
  president in January of 1900. Howells was
  clear on his support of the League.
 In December of 1900, when Charles C. Hughes
  included without authorization the names of
  many of the officers of the Anti-Imperialist
  League of New York among the sponsors of a
  new American Liberty League, Howells
  protested and refused to allow his name to be
 Both Twain and Howells signed three Anti-
 Howells split with Twain in 1904 and 1905 by
  joining the two organizations formed in New
  York as moderate, conciliatory, and
  predominantly Republican alternatives to the
  Anti-Imperialist League. He was a member of
  the Philippine Independence Committee and a
  vice president of the Filipino Progress
 In the fall of 1906, Howells met and
  discussed the U.S. role in the Philippines
  with James H. Blount who had recently
  returned from nearly six years as an army
  officer and U.S. District Court judge in the
 After this meeting, Howells asked the editors
  of the North American Review to solicit an
  article on the Philippines from Blount. This
  request led to two articles, "Philippine
   The first essay, which advocated
    Philippine independence after a ten-
    year period of U.S. tutelage in self-
    government, fit well with the Filipino
    Progress Association's program of
    reforms under U.S. rule leading to
    "ultimate independence."
   The second article emphasized the
    continuation of warfare in the islands
    beyond 1902 and the apparent inability
    of the United States to govern the
    Filipinos with justice.
   Isolated from Blount's earlier essay,
    it supported the Anti-Imperialist
   On January 31, 1907, Howells was
    reelected as a vice president of the
    Anti-Imperialist League to fill the
    space left vacant by Ernest Crosby's
    death earlier in the month.
   He signed another League petition in
    1910 and remained one of its vice
    presidents until his death in 1920.
Howells, William Dean. "Editha." Between
the Dark and the Daylight (New York:
Harper and Brothers, 1907).

    lls/editha.html In Jim Zwick, ed.,
    Anti-Imperialism in the United
    States, 1898-1935.
    (Dec. 9, 2002).

To top