The Black Heart's Truth: The Early Career of W.D. Howells

The Black Heart's Truth: The Early Career of W.D. Howells

The Black Heart's Truth: The Early Career of W.D. Howells

The Black Heart's Truth: The Early Career of W.D. Howells

Synopsis

W. D. Howells once wrote to his friend Mark Twain of "the black heart's-truth, which we all know of ourselves in our hearts" -- the dark core of inner life that underlies "the whity-brown truth of the pericardium, or the nice, whitened truth of the shirt front."

For Howells, a writer with a lifelong history of psychological disturbances, telling this "black heart's-truth" evinced his courage and imaginative spirit. John W. Crowley examines psychological clues in Howells' life in order to understand his art and to show how his writing was shaped by his neuroses. Applying the methods of literary psychology, Crowley reveals the submerged patterns and preoccupations that influenced Howells' early career.

As both a biographical and literary study, The Black Heart's Truth offers a detailed analysis of Howells' childhood and adolescence, his career as a fiction writer, his marriage, and his breakdowns. In his youth, Howells suffered from a variety of neurotic symptoms, including severe phobias, and he himself spoke of his "morbid boyhood," which culminated in his first breakdown at the age of seventeen. Using a Freudian perspective, Crowley shows how the events of these early years influenced Howells' fiction. His analysis of Their Wedding Journey, A Chance Acquaintance, A Foregone Conclusion, "Private Theatricals," The Lady of Aroostook, The Undiscovered Country, A Fearful Responsibility, and the unpublished "Geoffrey Winter" culminates in a systematic study of Howells' first major novel, A Modern Instance.

In his penetrating treatment of A Modern Instance, Crowley demonstrates how writing the novel effected Howells' 1881 breakdown and how, in turn, the breakdown affected the novel -- making it less than the great work it had promised to be. Crowley further argues that writing, as a means of emotional self-defense, enabled Howells to deal with his fear of the unconscious and allowed him some control over his complex impulses and problems.

Crowley concludes that studying Howells' psychological problems will lead to a fuller understanding of the writer's strengths and limitations. Combining biography and psychoanalysis, this work illuminates the problematic and ultimately irreducible workings of a neurotic writer's imagination.

Originally published in 1985.
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