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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 136

she sees, that he has played an ignoble and vulgar part which irrevocably separates them. Nothing could be more subtle than the dramatic turn by which their relative positions are reversed. The style of A Chance Acquaintance, while not more graceful than that of Howell’s earlier books, is more assured and crisp. The central idea is clearly conceived and the outlines sharp without being in any way hard or cynical. The descriptions are exquisite, the dialogue both natural and revealing, and over and through all is a lambent mirth, an undeceived kindliness of wisdom, which was to remain his essential quality.
  Although, to judge by A Chance Acquaintance, he had the art of narrative among his original endowments, he had only gradually discovered it in himself. His first narrative, No Love Lost (1869), had been in hexameters, more or less after the manner of Longfellow and Clough. Besides his life of Lincoln, Howells wrote three volumes of travels or essays before he attempted a novel at all. A Chance Acquaintance made no clean break with his previous experiments, for it deals with a group of Americans traveling in Canada, three of whom had already appeared in Their Wedding Journey. And even the success of his novel did not turn him wholly to fiction. He continued to write criticism and began to write farces, merely enlarging his range as he developed in power. The stream of literature had never before poured from an American writer with such variety and volume. Besides his stated duties for the Atlantic he found time during the seventies to edit a group of autobiographies, and later to write book introductions by the dozen; he translated modern Italian poets; he scanned the entire literary horizon for



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