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By Paul Abeln

William Dean Howells and the Ends of Realism is helping us to work out him as a author greatly conscious of his barriers and of his huge, immense value within the improvement of an American literary culture.

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The novel takes no detectable stand on March’s misapplication of his well-developed democratic sensibility. ”26 George Bennet has expanded on Cady’s reading by suggesting that the results of this investigation “are inconclusive with respect to the economic pressures and what a man should do to change them. There is no equivocation about the wrongness of Dryfoos’s pursuit of money, or about the fanaticism of Lindau. ”27 If Bennet is correct in his assertion that “Howells’s final resort [in Hazard is] to a kind of helpless irony in which the inadequacies of both individual actions and theoretical general solutions are revealed,” then Howells’s own remembrances of “strong emotioning” toward “humaner economics” seem suspect.

By doing so he responds to his own criticism of the “aesthetic immaturity” of the American reader by acknowledging and representing the same phenomenon in himself. Chapter Three “Disintegrating under the Reader’s Eye”: The Aging Howells and His Public, 1890– 1920 …Every interest, as already said, attaches itself to an object. The artist is interested in his brushes, in his colors, in his technique. The business man is interested in the play of supply and demand, in the movement of markets, etc.

His realism was indebted to and embedded in the rhetoric of transcendentalism. To read a Howellsian novel during the nineteenth century was, the author hoped, to see the order and goodness of American society beneath the increasingly messy material clutter of the age. The Howellsian realist “cannot look upon human life and declare this thing and that thing unworthy of notice, any more than the scientist can declare a fact of the material world beneath the dignity of his inquiry. ” In the early-twentieth century, this Emersonian brand of cultural reform, directed to a lettered elite with dwindling popular cache, seemed archaic if not absurd.

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