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William D. Howells (William Dean Howells) Biography

(1837–1920), (William Dean Howells), Atlantic Monthly, Ohio State Journal, Modern Italian Poets, The Nation

American novelist, critic, essayist, and editor, born in Martin's Ferry, Ohio. He came to have a profound impact upon the growing, serious middle-class American readership of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By 1860 Howells had published two books, a poem entitled ‘Poems of Two Friends’ (1860) with J. J. Piatt, and was contributing to the Atlantic Monthly. He worked for the Ohio State Journal at Columbus (185761), and met such writers as Lowell, Emerson, and Hawthorne. After writing a successful campaign biography of Lincoln, he was rewarded with the American consulship in Venice; in Italy, he wrote a variety of travel sketches, and later published Modern Italian Poets (1887). Returning to New York in 1865 he worked for The Nation, and by 1871 he had become editor of the Atlantic Monthly where he become an influential writer promoting the cause of realism in American fiction. The first of his thirty-five novels, Their Wedding Journey (1872), is a travel narrative loosely based on his own travels in 1870 from Boston to Canada. Thereafter, he wrote prolifically, publishing A Chance Acquaintance (1873), a further travel narrative which introduced Kitty Ellison, a figure similar to Henry James's Daisy Miller. There followed A Foregone Conclusion (1875), The Lady of the Aroostock (1879), and The Undiscovered Country (1880), all uncomplicated narratives which eschewed the more action-packed plots of some of his contemporaries. His most acclaimed fiction appeared in the 1880s and early 1890s, and includes A Modern Instance (1882), which examined the social and psychological disintegration in post-Civil War America; a study of women and social values in Boston in A Woman's Reason (1883); and his best-known novel, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), which focuses on the nouveau riche Silas Lapham, and the comedy of manners involved in the awkward relationships with the aristocratic Bostonian family, the Coreys. After Indian Summer (1886), a comedy of manners, his increasing awareness of ugly social forces and economic anomalies began to permeate his fiction, in the ‘economic’ novels about class differences: Annie Kilburn (1888), A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), and The World of Chance (1893). Other novels of this period include Minister's Charge (1887) and April Hopes (1888), as well as the utopian romance A Traveller From Altruria (1894), with its sequel Through the Eye of the Needle (1907). For part of this time he contributed critical essays to Harper's ‘Editor's Study’, which continued his championing of Critical Realism, some of which are collected in Criticism and Fiction (1891), and produced his penetrating essay ‘Novel-Writing and Novel-Reading’ (1891), My Literary Passions (1895), and Literature and Life (1902). He also wrote shorter novels which explored individual consciousness: The Shadow of a Dream (1890), and An Imperative Duty (1892), a study of miscegenation. Later novels include The Landlord at Lion's Head (1897), The Son of Royal Langbrith (1904), Editha (1905), The Leather-wood God (1916), Years of My Youth (1916), and the posthumously published The Vacation of the Kelwyns (1920). He was elected President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1910. In 1960 his correspondence with Mark Twain was published; in 1974, a first volume of a projected five volumes of his letters was published. His thirty-six plays appeared in the Complete Plays (1960) and his Complete Poetry appeared in 1974.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Honest Ulsterman to Douglas Hyde Biography