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


Page 139

  Having resigned his Atlantic editorship at forty-four, Howells in the next half-dozen years brought his Boston period to its summit and conclusion. Besides certain minor novels—A Woman’s Reason (1883), The Minister’s Charge (1887)—he wrote A Modern Instance (1882), which he thought his strongest, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1884), which the public has generally found the best of his novels, and Indian Summer (1885), which he himself thought his best. Without the bitter tincture of pessimism which Howells lacked, realism can hardly go further than in these three. The superiority of A Modern Instance to all that has come before lies less in its firmer grasp of its materials, for Howells from the first was sure of grasp, than in its larger control of larger materials. It has a richer timbre, a deeper tone. Marcia Gaylord, the most passionate of all his heroines, is of all of them the most clearly yet lovingly conceived and elaborated. Her unaccountable impulses and endurances convey an impression that is completely individual. Types do not behave so. In the career of her husband, Bartely Hubbard, the journalist, Howells adroitly traces a metamorphosis from selfishnes’s and vanity, fed in this case by Marcia’s unreasoning devotion, into contemptible viciousness which has not even a dash of boldness to redeem it. Like the impulses of Marcia, the process hides itself perhaps rather too closely from the observer, who as in the case of living persons may now and then be surprised to find that the decay has gone so fast and far with so few outward signs. Writing the winter scenes of the earlier chapters Howells had the advantage of those many pens which in the past decade had wrought at the local color of New England;



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