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


Page 137

new planetaries; he was one of the most widely-read of Americans. As his curiosity never grew faint, so never did his pen, but kept up its amazing productivity without damage to the smooth surface of his style and the bland cheerfulness of his disposition.
  His principal limitation—his chariness of passion and tragedy—did not entirely reveal itself in the novels which he wrote during the Atlantic period. Like Henry James in those same years, Howells was at first concerned with the contrast between different manners or grades of sophistication—a conflict to which his own sojourn as an American in Italy and as a Westerner in Boston had made him sensitive. A Foregone Conclusion (1875) and A Fearful Responsibility (1881) show American and Italian manners in conflict; Private Theatricals (published in the Atlantic in 1875–76 as a serial but never issued in a separate volume) and The Lady of the Aroostook (1879) set the social habits of the American village in contrast with those of the American city; An Undiscovered Country (1880) takes its characters through contact with spiritualism and Shakerism, making clear Howells’s disagreement with those forms of otherworldliness; Dr. Breen’s Practice (1881) is the story of a woman’s struggle to make a place for herself in the medical profession against the stupid resistance of a public which has no objection except that women are new in that profession. Devoted as all these were to the transcription and criticism of the lighter manners of the age, they could hardly be censured for not going deeper, especially since they did what they set out to do with such ease, such dexterity, such revealing humor, such shrewd and illuminating comment. It appeared,



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