Howells worked as a typesetter and a printers apprentice educating himself through intensive reading and the study of Spanish French Latin and German.
After a term as city editor of the Ohio State Journal in 1858 Howells published poems stories and reviews in the Atlantic Monthly and other magazines.
A longer work his campaign biography for Abraham Lincoln earned him enough money to travel to New England and meet the great literary figures of the dayNathaniel Hawthorne Ralph Waldo Emerson Henry David Thoreau James Russell Lowell and Walt Whitman among them.
Awarded the post of U. S. Consul to Venice in 1861 for his service to the Lincoln campaign Howells lived in Italy for nearly four years.
During his residence there he married Elinor Mead Howells in 1862 and by 1872 the couple had three children Winifred (b. 1863) John Mead (b. 1868) and Mildred (b. 1872).
After leaving Venice Howells became first the assistant editor (1866-71) and then the editor (1871-1881) of the Atlantic Monthly a post that gave him enormous influence as an arbiter of American taste.
Publishing work by authors such as Mark Twain and Henry James both of whom would become personal friends Howells became a proponent of American realism and his defense of Henry James in an article for The Century (1882) provoked what was called the Realism War with writers on both sides of the Atlantic ocean debating the merits of realistic and romantic fiction.
While writing the Editors Study (1886-1892) and Editors Easy Chair (1899-1909) for Harpers New Monthly Magazine and occasional pieces for The North American Review Howells championed the work of many writers including Emily Dickinson Mary E. Wilkins Freeman Hamlin Garland Sarah Orne Jewett Charles W. Chesnutt Frank Norris Paul Laurence Dunbar Abraham Cahan and Stephen Crane.
He was also responsible for promoting such European authors as Ibsen Zola Pérez Galdós Verga and Tolstoy.
Despite Howellss professional success his personal life during this period was marred in 1889 by the premature death of his daughter Winifred whose physical symptoms were misdiagnosed as resulting from a nervous disorder and were ineffectively treated.
After the execution of the Haymarket radicals in 1887 which he risked his reputation to protest Howells became increasingly concerned with social issues as seen in stories such as Editha (1905) and novels concerned with race (An Imperative Duty 1892) the problems of labor (Annie Kilburn 1888) and professions for women (The Coast of Bohemia 1893).
Widely acknowledged during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the Dean of American Letters Howells was elected the first president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1908 which instituted its Howells Medal for Fiction in 1915.
By the time of his death from pneumonia on 11 May 1920 Howells was still respected for his position in American literature.
However his later novels did not achieve the success of his early realistic work and later authors such as Sinclair Lewis denounced Howellss fiction and his influence as being too genteel to represent the real America.
Although he wrote over a hundred books in various genres including novels poems literary criticism plays memoirs and travel narratives Howells is best known today for his realistic fiction including A Modern Instance (1881) on the then-new topic of the social consequences of divorce The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) his best-known work and one of the first novels to study the American businessman and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890) an exploration of cosmopolitan life in New York City as seen through the eyes of Basil and Isabel March the protagonists of Their Wedding Journey (1871) and other works. Other important novels include Dr. Breens Practice (1880) The Ministers Charge and Indian Summer (1886) April Hopes (1887) The Landlord at Lions Head (1897) and The Son of Royal Langbrith (1904).
Howells remained proud of his Ohio roots throughout his life returning to Columbus for the Ohio Centennial Celebration in 1888 and visiting his home in Jefferson late into the 1890s.
In the later part of his career he drew increasingly on his life in Ohio in autobiographical works (A Boys Town1890) and novels (The Kentons 1903).
The legend of a man from Leatherwood Creek Ohio who convinces the people there that he is a god inspired one of Howellss last works The Leatherwood God (1916).
10 Criticism and Fiction
Howells literary convictions are summed up in Criticism and Fiction (1891). He stressed the importance of common experience and the truthful rendering of motives and feelings.
Such beauty and such grandeur as we have is common beauty common grandeur.... These conditions invite the artist to the study and appreciation of the common.... The arts must become demographic and then we shall have the expression of America in art.
He believed art must serve morality and that it should provide an evaluation of character and experience.
By the time of Howells death realism was firmly established in American fiction. Since then many novelists have gone further in portrayal of real experience of economic strife of physical passions of psychological conflicts.
Howells was a reticent realist restrained by the conventions of his time and by his own propriety and discretion. But he marked out the path that twentieth-century fiction has followed.
12 Anti-imperialist Writings
During their lifetimes Mark Twain and William Dean Howells (1837-1920) were closely linked when their anti-imperialist writings were considered. In a 1903 tract The Principles of the Founders Edwin D. Mead the prominent Boston-based anti-imperialist peace advocate and cousin of Howellss wife highlighted the two writers as representing literary anti-imperialism outside of Massachusetts. This was natural. Arguably the two most prominent and influential literary figures of their time Howells and Twain were close friends and they frequently discussed imperialism and the war in the Philippines in private talks and correspondence.
Howellss association with the anti-imperialist movement began as early as April of 1898 when he joined Bolton Hall Henry Codman Potter Ernest H. Crosby Josephine Shaw Lowell and others in A Peace Appeal to Labor against the Spanish-American War.
In October of the following year stating that he was heart and soul with the organization Howells joined Hall Crosby Carl Schurz Henry Van Dyke and others in the short lived American League of New York. Asked by the New York Evening Post about his support of the American League Howells explained I still believe in the principle of the consent of the governed as a moral principle which is the strength of the republic and in our present course in the East we are going counter to the principles of our own strength and happiness.
He warned against the dangers of corruption and racial antagonism inherent in colonial government and proposed an immediate truce during which the United States could propose a form of government for the Philippines.
The American League of New York was soon succeeded by the Anti-Imperialist League of New York which Howells joined as a vice president in January of 1900. Howells was clear on his support of the League.
In December of 1900 when Charles C. Hughes included without authorization the names of many of the officers of the Anti-Imperialist League of New York among the sponsors of a new American Liberty League Howells protested and refused to allow his name to be used.
Both Twain and Howells signed three Anti-Imperialist League petitions circulated in 1901 1902 and 1903.
Howells split with Twain in 1904 and 1905 by joining the two organizations formed in New York as moderate conciliatory and predominantly Republican alternatives to the Anti-Imperialist League. He was a member of the Philippine Independence Committee and a vice president of the Filipino Progress Association.
In the fall of 1906 Howells met and discussed the U.S. role in the Philippines with James H. Blount who had recently returned from nearly six years as an army officer and U.S. District Court judge in the Philippines.
After this meeting Howells asked the editors of the North American Review to solicit an article on the Philippines from Blount. This request led to two articles Philippine Independence When and Philippine Independence Why that were published respectively in January and June of 1907 and reprinted also respectively by the Filipino Progress Association and the Anti-Imperialist League.
The first essay which advocated Philippine independence after a ten-year period of U.S. tutelage in self-government fit well with the Filipino Progress Associations program of reforms under U.S. rule leading to ultimate independence.
The second article emphasized the continuation of warfare in the islands beyond 1902 and the apparent inability of the United States to govern the Filipinos with justice.
Isolated from Blounts earlier essay it supported the Anti-Imperialist Leagues arguments for immediate and complete independence.
On January 31 1907 Howells was reelected as a vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League to fill the space left vacant by Ernest Crosbys death earlier in the month.
He signed another League petition in 1910 and remained one of its vice presidents until his death in 1920.
18 Howells William Dean. Editha. Between the Dark and the Daylight (New York Harper and Brothers 1907).
http//www.boondocksnet.com/ai/howells/editha.html In Jim Zwick ed. Anti-Imperialism in the United States 1898-1935. http//www.boondocksnet. com/ai/ (Dec. 9 2002).
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