William Dean Howells, 1837-1920

Portrait

Biographical note

American realist author and literary critic.

He wrote his first novel, Their Wedding Journey, in 1872, but his literary reputation took off with the realist novel A Modern Instance, published in 1882, which described the decay of a marriage. His 1885 novel The Rise of Silas Lapham is perhaps his best known, describing the rise and fall of an American entrepreneur in the paint business. His social views were also strongly reflected in the novels Annie Kilburn [1888] and A Hazard of New Fortunes [1890].

Howells also wrote plays, criticism, and essays about contemporary literary figures such as Henrik Ibsen, Émile Zola, Giovanni Verga, Benito Pérez Galdós, and Leo Tolstoy, which helped establish their reputations in the United States. He also wrote critically in support of American writers Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, Emily Dickinson, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Sarah Orne Jewett, Charles W. Chesnutt, Abraham Cahan, and Frank Norris. It is perhaps in this role that he had his greatest influence. In his "Editor's Study" column at the Atlantic Monthly and, later, at Harper's, he formulated and disseminated his theories of "realism" in literature.

His poems were collected in 1873 and 1886, and a volume under the title Stops of Various Quills appeared in 1895.

He was the founder of the school of American realists who derived through the Russians from Balzac and had little sympathy with any other form of fiction, although he was full of encouragement for new writers in whom he discovered a fresh note. It can hardly be doubted that his was the most influential work done in American fiction during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

In 1904, he was one of the first seven chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, of which he became president.

Works

Novels

Travel

Reminiscences & Autobiography

Essays

  • My Literary Passions [1909]
    1. The Bookcase at Home
    2. Goldsmith
    3. Cervantes
    4. Irving
    5. First Fiction and Drama
    6. Longfellow’s “Spanish Student”
    7. Scott
    8. Lighter Fancies
    9. Pope
    10. Various Preferences
    11. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
    12. Ossian
    13. Shakespeare
    14. Ik Marvel
    15. Dickens
    16. Wordsworth, Lowell, Chaucer
    17. Macaulay
    18. Critics and Reviews
    19. A Non-Literary Episode
    20. Thackeray
    21. “Lazarillo De Tormes”
    22. Curtis, Longfellow, Schlegel
    23. Tennyson
    24. Heine
    25. De Quincey, Goethe, Longfellow
    26. George Eliot, Hawthorne, Goethe, Heine
    27. Charles Reade
    28. Dante
    29. Goldoni, Manzoni, D’azeglio
    30. “Pastor Fido,” “Aminta,” “Romola,” “Yeast,” “Paul Ferroll”
    31. Erckmann-Chatrian, Bjorstjerne Bjornson
    32. Tourguenief, Auerbach
    33. Certain Preferences and Experiences
    34. Valdes, Galdos, Verga, Zola, Trollope, Hardy
    35. Tolstoy
  • Criticism and fiction [1892]
  • Plays

    Miscellanous (to be categorised)

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