Howells, William Dean
Editor's Study(1886–91) and the
Easy Chair(1900–1920) for Harper's Magazine.
His first novels, Their Wedding Journey (1872), The Lady of the Aroostook (1879), and others, were moralistic comedies of manners that aroused only mild interest. However, when he turned to realism with A Modern Instance (1882) and The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), he became a leading novelist. In these two books, which are regarded as his major achievements, Howells portrayed with minute detail characters attempting to solve lifelike problems, often arising from social distinctions. His unromantic love story, Indian Summer (1886), was also highly popular. Howells' critical essays on the works of such realistic European writers as Tolstoy, Zola, and Ibsen helped to mold American taste, and he was a literary mentor to Mark Twain, Hamlin Garland, Thorstein Veblen, and Stephen Crane.
From the late 1880s on Howells spent much of his time New York City. During these years he became more and more concerned with social conflict and the problems of industrialization. Socialist thought is apparent in his novels A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), The Quality of Mercy (1892), and An Imperative Duty (1893), and even more forthright in his utopian works, A Traveler from Altruria (1894) and Through the Eye of the Needle (1907). He was an amazingly prolific author; besides his many novels he wrote plays ranging from blank verse tragedy to farce; critical works; several volumes of reminiscence; and short stories. The most notable of his critical volumes is Criticism and Fiction (1891). His books of reminiscences include A Boy's Town (1890), My Year in a Log Cabin (1893), Impressions and Experiences (1896), Literary Friends and Acquaintances (1900), My Mark Twain (1910), and Years of My Youth (1916).
See his life in letters (ed. by his daughter, Mildred Howells, 1928); biographies by E. H. Cady (2 vol., 1956–58, repr. 1986), K. S. Lynn (1972), and S. Goodman and C. Dawson (2005); studies by E. H. Cady (1956 and 1958, both repr. 1986) and as ed. with L. J. Budd (1993), G. N. Bennett (1973), K. E. Eble (1982), J. W. Crowley (1985 and 1999), and P. Abeln (2004); bibliography by V. J. Brenni (1973).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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