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


Page 142

United States at large. In other sections—at least in those not dominated by New England habits transplanted—the adventures of the self-made have nearly always been more stirring, motivated by less lawful ambitions, colored by ranker senses. Lapham rises through the easy and yet compact levels of a homogeneous provincial society as law-abiding as any in the world. The clang of the larger America, the sense of the manipulation of vast forces which give the story of the self-made American its thrilling interest, do not appear in this quiet story. Moreover, Howells presents Lapham, for the most part, in his milder hours, with his wife and daughters in the plainest of households, barely hinting at the tough struggles with the world to which of course Lapham gave most of his time. Lapham represents the American magnate only as subdued to New England conditions and then further subdued to the domestic hearth. Here, Howells might probably have contended, the true and essential Lapham had his existence, at this central station of human affairs. One misses, nevertheless, the thrust and clutch and strain and sweat of actuality. The more wonder then that, lacking these, the book still seems so solid an image of the truth. Its flawless structure assists it in making the impression; so does the unfailing lucidity and unobtrusiveness of the narrative and the unimprovable conversations. And yet all this art to conceal art must have been unavailing had not the final substance, thus exhibited, been shaped out of reality itself. To say, as one may say even of this admirable story, that it does not visit the uttermost deeps of human character, is not to say that it plays over the surface. Howells’s imagination has seen through and



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