William Dean Howells (/ˈhaʊəlz/; March 1, 1837 – May 11, 1920) was an American realist novelist, literary critic, and playwright, nicknamed "The Dean of American Letters". He was particularly known for his tenure as editor of The Atlantic Monthly, as well as for his own prolific writings, including the Christmas story "Christmas Every Day" and the novels The Rise of Silas Lapham and A Traveler from Altruria.
William Dean Howells
|Born||March 1, 1837|
Martins Ferry (then Martinsville), Ohio, U.S.
|Died||May 11, 1920 (aged 83)|
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
|Children||Winifred Howells (b. 1863) |
John Mead Howells (b. 1868)
Mildred Howells (b. 1872)
William Dean Howells was born on March 1, 1837, in Martinsville, Ohio (now known as Martins Ferry, Ohio), to William Cooper Howells and Mary Dean Howells, the second of eight children. His father was a newspaper editor and printer who moved frequently around Ohio. In 1840, the family settled in Hamilton, Ohio, where his father oversaw a Whig newspaper and followed Swedenborgianism. Their nine years there were the longest period that they stayed in one place. The family had to live frugally, although the young Howells was encouraged by his parents in his literary interests. He began at an early age to help his father with typesetting and printing work, a job known at the time as a printer's devil. In 1852, his father arranged to have one of his poems published in the Ohio State Journal without telling him.
In 1856, Howells was elected as a clerk in the State House of Representatives. In 1858, he began to work at the Ohio State Journal where he wrote poetry and short stories, and also translated pieces from French, Spanish, and German. He avidly studied German and other languages and was greatly interested in Heinrich Heine. In 1860, he visited Boston and met with writers James Thomas Fields, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He became a personal friend to many of them, including Henry Adams, William James, Henry James, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
In 1860 Howells wrote Abraham Lincoln's campaign biography Life of Abraham Lincoln and subsequently gained a consulship in Venice. He married Elinor Mead on Christmas Eve 1862 at the American embassy in Paris. She was a sister of sculptor Larkin Goldsmith Mead and architect William Rutherford Mead of the firm McKim, Mead, and White. Among their children was architect John Mead Howells.
The Howells returned to America in 1865 and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He wrote for various magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly and Harper's Magazine. In January 1866, James Fields offered him a position as assistant editor at The Atlantic Monthly; he accepted after successfully negotiating for a higher salary, though he was frustrated by Fields' close supervision.
Howells was made editor in 1871, after five years as assistant editor, and he remained in this position until 1881. In 1869, he met Mark Twain with whom he formed a longtime friendship. But his relationship with journalist Jonathan Baxter Harrison was more important for the development of his literary style and his advocacy of Realism. Harrison wrote a series of articles for The Atlantic Monthly during the 1870s on the lives of ordinary Americans. Howells gave a series of twelve lectures on "Italian Poets of Our Century" for the Lowell Institute during its 1870-71 season.
He published his first novel Their Wedding Journey in 1872, but his literary reputation soared with the realist novel A Modern Instance (1882), which described the decay of a marriage. His 1885 novel The Rise of Silas Lapham became his best known work, describing the rise and fall of an American entrepreneur of the paint business. His social views were also strongly represented in the novels Annie Kilburn (1888), A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), and An Imperative Duty (1891).
He was particularly outraged by the trials resulting from the Haymarket Riot, which led him to portray a similar riot in A Hazard of New Fortunes and to write publicly to protest the trials of the men allegedly involved in the Haymarket affair. In his public writing and in his novels, he drew attention to pressing social issues of the time. He joined the Anti-Imperialist League in 1898, in opposition to the U.S. annexation of the Philippines.
His poems were collected in 1873 and 1886, and a volume was published in 1895 under the title Stops of Various Quills. He was the initiator of the school of American realists, and he had little sympathy with any other type of fiction. However, he frequently encouraged new writers in whom he discovered new ideas or new fictional techniques, such as Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Hamlin Garland, Harold Frederic, Abraham Cahan, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Paul Laurence Dunbar.
In 1902, Howells published The Flight of Pony Baker, a book for children partly inspired by his own childhood. That same year, he bought a summer home overlooking the Piscataqua River in Kittery Point, Maine. He returned there annually until Elinor's death when he left the house to his son and family and moved to a house in York Harbor. His grandson, John Noyes Mead Howells, donated the property to Harvard University as a memorial in 1979. In 1904 he was one of the first seven people chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, of which he became president.
In February 1910, Elinor Howells began using morphine to treat her worsening neuritis. She died on May 6, a few days after her birthday, and only two weeks after the death of Howells's friend Mark Twain. Henry James offered his condolences, writing, "I think of this laceration of your life with an infinite sense of all it will mean for you". Howells and his daughter Mildred decided to spend part of the year in their Cambridge home on Concord Avenue; though, without Elinor, they found it "dreadful in its ghostliness and ghastliness".
Howells died in his sleep shortly after midnight on May 11, 1920, and was buried in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eight years later his daughter published his correspondence as a biography of his literary life.
In addition to his own creative works, Howells also wrote criticism, and essays about contemporary literary figures such as Henrik Ibsen, Émile Zola, Giovanni Verga, Benito Pérez Galdós, and, especially, 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, Madison Cawein, 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.
Howells viewed realism as "nothing more and nothing less than the truthful treatment of material."
In defense of the real, as opposed to the ideal, he wrote,
"I hope the time is coming when not only the artist, but the common, average man, who always 'has the standard of the arts in his power,' will have also the courage to apply it, and will reject the ideal grasshopper wherever he finds it, in science, in literature, in art, because it is not 'simple, natural, and honest,' because it is not like a real grasshopper. But I will own that I think the time is yet far off, and that the people who have been brought up on the ideal grasshopper, the heroic grasshopper, the impassioned grasshopper, the self-devoted, adventureful, good old romantic card-board grasshopper, must die out before the simple, honest, and natural grasshopper can have a fair field."
Howells believed the future of American writing was not in poetry but in novels, a form which he saw shifting from "romance" to a serious form.
Howells was a Christian socialist whose ideals were greatly influenced by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. He joined a Christian socialist group in Boston between 1889 and 1891 and attended several churches, including the First Spiritual Temple and the Church of the Carpenter, the latter being affiliated with the Episcopal Church and the Society of Christian Socialists. These influences led him to write on issues of social justice from a moral and egalitarian point of view, being critic of the social effects of industrial capitalism. He was, however, not a Marxist.
Noting the "documentary" and truthful value of Howells' work, Henry James wrote: "Stroke by stroke and book by book your work was to become, for this exquisite notation of our whole democratic light and shade and give and take, in the highest degree documentary." The late nineteenth century English novelist George Gissing read two of Howell's works, The Shadow of a Dream and A Fearful Responsibility, calling the latter "inane triviality".  Bliss Perry considered a knowledge of his work vital for an understanding of the American provincial novel and believed that "he has never in his long career written an insincere, a slovenly, or an infelicitous page."
The following were written during his residence in England and in Italy, as was The Rise of Silas Lapham in 1885.
He returned to the United States in 1886. He wrote various types of works, including fiction, poetry, and farces, of which The Sleeping Car, The Mouse-Trap, The Elevator; Christmas Every Day; and Out of the Question are characteristic.
A Counterfeit Presentment is a play written by American author and playwright William Dean Howells in 1877. The play is a realistic comedy and tells the story of a chance encounter between a young woman, Constance, and a man whom she mistakes for her ex lover, Bartlett. However, Bartlett is not completely aware of Constance's neurotic behavior until he gets to know her a bit more. Her true personality is only truly expressed after she forces Bartlett to stay with her in the hotel so she can pretend he is her former beau. Howell's uses comedy to reveal the deeper issue of the plight of unmarried middle and upper class women in the 19th century.A Hazard of New Fortunes
A Hazard of New Fortunes is a novel by William Dean Howells. Copyrighted in 1889 and first published in the U.S. by Harper & Bros. in 1890, the book was well-received for its portrayal of social injustice. Considered by many to be his best work, the novel is also considered to be the first novel to portray New York City. Some argue that the novel was the first of three Howells wrote with Socialist and Utopian ideals in mind: The Quality of Mercy in 1892, and An Imperative Duty in 1893. In this novel, although Howells briefly discusses the American Civil War, he primarily deals with issues of post-war "Gilded Age" America, like labor disputes, the rise of the self-made millionaire, the growth of urban America, the influx of immigrants, and other industrial-era problems. Many critics consider A Hazard of New Fortunes to be one of Howells' most important examples of American literary Realism because he portrays a variety of people from different backgrounds.A Modern Instance
A Modern Instance is a realistic novel written by William Dean Howells, and published in 1882 by J. R. Osgood & Co. The novel is about the deterioration of a once loving marriage under the influence of capitalistic greed. It is the first American novel by a canonical author to seriously consider divorce as a realistic outcome of marriage.A Traveler from Altruria
A Traveler from Altruria is a Utopian novel by William Dean Howells. It was first published in installments in The Cosmopolitan between November 1892 and October 1893, and eventually in book form by Harper & Brothers in 1894. The novel is a critique of unfettered capitalism and its consequences, and of the Gilded Age.An Imperative Duty
An Imperative Duty is a short realist novel by William Dean Howells published in 1891. The novel explores the idea of "passing" through the racially mixed character of Rhoda Aldgate, a young woman whose aunt informs her that she is one-sixteenth African American. Rhoda lived her whole life "passing" as a white person.Christmas Every Day
Christmas Every Day is a 1996 American made-for-television fantasy-comedy film based on the 1892 short story "Christmas Every Day" by William Dean Howells.
It was directed by Larry Peerce, starred Erik von Detten, and originally broadcast on The Family Channel during their first 25 Days of Christmas programming block. and was also shown on UK television on QVC Extra (True Entertainment) on November 28, 2015.
The movie was remade into an ABC Family TV movie in 2006 titled Christmas Do-Over.Dr. Breen's Practice
Dr. Breen's Practice is a novel, one of the earlier works by American author and literary critic William Dean Howells. Houghton Mifflin originally published the novel in 1881 in both Boston and New York. Howells wrote in the realist style, creating a faithful representation of the commonplace, and in this case describing everyday mannerisms that embody the daily lives of middle-class people.Elinor Mead Howells
Elinor Mead Howells (May 1, 1837 – May 6, 1910) was an American artist, architect and aristocrat. She was married to author William Dean Howells and designed the William Dean Howells House in Cambridge.Indian Summer (novel)
Indian Summer is an 1886 novel by William Dean Howells. Though it was published after The Rise of Silas Lapham, it was written before The Rise of Silas Lapham. The setting for this novel was inspired by a trip Howells had recently taken with his family to Europe.
Howells was a realist writer who wanted “his characters to be honest, ordinary people, as he might find in his strata of society, flawed and well-meaning, good-hearted and self-effacing, bound by the conventions and the restrictions of their day but quietly dreaming of a little local heroism in their souls.” All of this is encompassed in the character Theodore Colville.Mark Twain's Library of Humor
Mark Twain's Library of Humor is an 1888 anthology of short humorous works compiled by Mark Twain, pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, William Dean Howells and Charles Hopkins Clark.
In 1880, George Gebbie suggested to Mark Twain that he publish an anthology of humorous works. The idea evolved into a project financed by Clemens to produce an anthology of American humor with himself as editor and Howells and Clark assisting. Clemens did the least work on the project, but he remained in control and had the final say in everything. He realized how minor his role had been and wanted to put Howells's name on the title page, but a legal agreement with Harper and Brothers that Howells' name would only appear on their publications prevented this, and Harper and Brothers wanted US$2,500 (approximately $50,000 with inflation) for a release, compelling Howells to sign the Introduction as "The Associate Editors." The book was published in 1888 by Charles L. Webster & Company. When that firm collapsed in 1894, Harper and Brothers took over the publication of all of Clemens' works. The Library of Humor was a valuable piece, containing many copyrighted works by many distinguished and popular authors. Secretary of Harper and Brothers Frederick A. Duneka had it revamped and expanded by Burges Johnson for a multi-volume revival in 1906. The title and Apology were kept, but the result was wildly different (Clemens's reaction is suggested by the title of Johnson's Fall 1937 article in the Mark Twain Quarterly, "When Mark Twain Cursed Me"); so different that one authority has said that it should have really been called The Harper Library of Humor.Printer's devil
A printer's devil was an apprentice in a printing establishment who performed a number of tasks, such as mixing tubs of ink and fetching type. A number of notable men served as printer's devils in their youth, including Ambrose Bierce, William Dean Howells, James Printer, Benjamin Franklin, Raymond C. Hoiles, Samuel Fuller, Thomas Jefferson, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Joel Chandler Harris, Warren Harding, Lawrence Tibbett, John Kellogg, Lyndon Johnson, Hoodoo Brown, James Hogg, Joseph Lyons, Albert Parsons, Meade Huggins and Lázaro Cárdenas.Redtop (Belmont, Massachusetts)
Redtop – also spelled Red Top – is a historic Shingle Style house located at 90 Somerset Street, Belmont, Massachusetts. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971 for its association with writer and literary critic William Dean Howells (1837–1920), a leading proponent of realism in literature. The Shingle Style house was designed by Howells' brother-in-law William Rutherford Mead, and served as the Howells' residence from its construction in 1877 to 1882.The Rise of Silas Lapham
The Rise of Silas Lapham is a realist novel by William Dean Howells published in 1885. The story follows the materialistic rise of Silas Lapham from rags to riches, and his ensuing moral susceptibility. Silas earns a fortune in the paint business, but he lacks social standards, which he tries to attain through his daughter's marriage into the aristocratic Corey family. Silas' morality does not fail him. He loses his money but makes the right moral decision when his partner proposes the unethical selling of the mills to English settlers.
Howells is known to be the father of American realism, and a denouncer of the sentimental novel. The resolution of the love triangle of Irene Lapham, Tom Corey, and Penelope Lapham highlights Howells' rejection of the conventions of sentimental romantic novels as unrealistic and deceitful.The Whole Family
The Whole Family: a Novel by Twelve Authors (1908) is a collaborative novel told in twelve chapters, each by a different author. This unusual project was conceived by novelist William Dean Howells and carried out under the direction of Harper's Bazaar editor Elizabeth Jordan, who (like Howells) would write one of the chapters herself. Howells' idea for the novel was to show how an engagement or marriage would affect and be affected by an entire family. The project became somewhat curious for the way the authors' contentious interrelationships mirrored the sometimes dysfunctional family they described in their chapters. Howells had hoped Mark Twain would be one of the authors, but Twain did not participate. Other than Howells himself, Henry James was probably the best-known author to participate. The novel was serialized in Harper's Bazaar in 1907-08 and published as a book by Harpers in late 1908.Through the Eye of the Needle
Through the Eye of the Needle: A Romance is a 1907 Utopian novel written by William Dean Howells. It is the final volume in Howells's "Altrurian trilogy," following A Traveler from Altruria (1894) and Letters of an Altrurian Traveler (1904).Like the second book in the trilogy, Howells casts the third and final book in the form of an epistolary novel — a form favored by some other Utopian and dystopian writers. (For examples, see: The Republic of the Future; Caesar's Column.) In the final book, Aristides Homos, Howells's Altrurian protagonist, writes a series of letters home to his friend Cyril. Homos is now located in the densely urban environment of New York City, where he confronts the contrasts between America c. 1900 and his own pastoral and agrarian Utopianism in their most extreme forms.
The dramatic center of the book is the love affair between Homos and Evelith Strange, a wealthy widow of the American plutocracy. Evelith has chosen the life of a socialite because she is frustrated by the limited effects of "good works" — though her routine of idleness conflicts with her Christian values and her conscience. Evelith must decide whether to abandon her social position and her fortune to follow Homos back to Altruria. Eventually, Evelith marries Homos, and both she and her mother return with him to Altruria. Curiously, the mother-in-law finds the adjustment relatively easy, since she realizes that she has returned to the simpler life she knew in her youth.
Howells gives the moral writings of Leo Tolstoy an important role in the book — though not with naive acceptance. At one point, Evelith tells Homos that "Tolstoy himself doesn't destroy his money, though he wants other people to do it. His wife keeps it and supports the family."
The story also includes Homos's travels abroad, and his commentaries on the societies he visits.William Dean Howells House
William Dean Howells House may refer to:
William Dean Howells House (Cambridge, Massachusetts), listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Cambridge, Massachusetts
William Dean Howells House (Kittery Point, Maine), listed on the National Register of Historic Places in York County, MaineWilliam Dean Howells House (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
The William Dean Howells House is a house built and occupied by American author William Dean Howells and family. It is located at 37 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The house was designed by Howell's wife, Elinor Mead, and occupied by the family from 1873-1878. Authors including Mark Twain, Henry James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Thomas Bailey Aldrich visited the Howells in this house, as did President James Garfield, and Helen Keller lived there afterwards while attending school.William Dean Howells House (Kittery Point, Maine)
The William Dean Howells House is a historic house at 36 Pepperrell Road in Kittery Point, Maine. Built c. 1870, this house was for many years the summer residence of writer and editor William Dean Howells, best known as editor of Atlantic Monthly magazine. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 (where the listing misspells the name "Howels").William Dean Howells Medal
The William Dean Howells Medal is awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Established in 1925 and named for William Dean Howells, it is given once every five years, generally in recognition of the most distinguished American novel published during that period, although some awards have been made to novelists for their general body of work. The recipient of the award is chosen, by a committee drawn from the membership of the Academy, from among those candidates nominated by a member of the Academy.
William Dean Howells