The Mask of Fiction: Essays on W.D. Howells

The Mask of Fiction: Essays on W.D. Howells

The Mask of Fiction: Essays on W.D. Howells

The Mask of Fiction: Essays on W.D. Howells

Excerpt

In her father-centered memoir, Susan Cheever records an incident indicative of W. D. Howells's standing with many readers. The author, researching her book in the New York Public Library, is accosted by a stereotypical academic clod:

"Are you writing a biography of John Cheever?"

"I don't think so," I say.

"You should, you really should. He was so important. I think of him as the Howells of the 1980s. Howells was underrated too, you know."

I think about the rich and turgid textures of A Hazard of New Fortunes and The Rise of Silas Lapham. The detail, the dedication to realism, the neat moral lessons of the plots. I smile politely and leave the room.

Some of Howells's detractors are less polite. In May 1987, at a celebration marking the sesquicentennial of Howells's birth, an unsmiling and mysterious stranger materialized in the audience assembled at Howells's summer home in Kittery Point, Maine, to discuss some scholarly papers. Boasting that he had hobnobbed with Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser, this grey champion of their anti-Howellsian opinions asseverated -- there in Howells's . . .

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