Criticism and Fiction, and Other Essays

Criticism and Fiction, and Other Essays

Criticism and Fiction, and Other Essays

Criticism and Fiction, and Other Essays

Excerpt

For over half a century William Dean Howells profoundly influenced the literary taste of the United States. He helped the American reader recover from a subservient respect for "the classics," especially those of a romantic flavor, by directing his attention to the great realistic writers of Italy, France, Spain, Russia, and the Scandinavian countries. Through editorial columns, first of the Atlantic Monthly and then of Harper's Magazine, he patiently, humorously, and wisely talked to a widening circle of men and women concerning the importance of truth in literature. As early as 1872 Howells had declared his allegiance to Real Life in Their Wedding Journey--"Ah, poor Real Life, how I love thy foolish and insipid face." When Howells opened the door of The Editor's Study of Harper's in January, 1886, he invited his readers, still delighting in the sensational novels of Oüida and Charles Reade, "to regard our life without the literary glasses so long thought desirable, and to see character, not as it is in other fiction, but as it abounds outside of all fiction."

From 1886 to 1892 Howells' voice became more insistent; every month from The Editor's Study it could be heard "perpetually thundering at the gates of Fiction in Error." It is from these Harper's Magazine essays that Howells selected the little volume, Criticism and Fiction, with which he blasted the "historical romance" before he left his editorial chair in 1892. In Part I of this book will be found, in its entirety, Criticism and Fiction, which for too long has been out of print. In its own day this small book became the center of a literary controversy that raged for many years on both sides of the Atlantic. "In our country," Howells wrote in mock despair over the popularity of such novels as Quo Vadis and When Knighthood Was in Flower, "nothing of . . .

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