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


Page 143

through all the persons in The Rise of Silas Lapham; it has thought round and round every situation. There are three dimensions to the matter; it is a sturdy, tangible, memorable block of life. To so much Howells added what his merely professional skill could not have added: the warm, friendly atmosphere which emanated from his own benign personality.
  That in 1890 he thought Indian Summer his best novel shows how well inclined he was toward the gayer side of his character, for in this exquisite interlude, lightly, sweetly, pungently narrating the loves of a man of forty, Howells reached his highest pitch of comedy. His touch on each page and sentence is as graceful as his spirit is unfailing from first to last. The scene he laid in Italy; its characters he chose from among those temporarily and voluntarily exiled Americans who in the seventies and eighties of the last century so tempted novelists with any partiality for satire or contrast; the moral hints, as the story unmistakably tells, that for a middle-aged lover there is much more joy and comfort in a woman his own age than in the most entrancing young girl whatever. Out of a dozen possible keys in which the theme might have been set, Howells chose—or seems to have chosen—the one best suited to the innocent branch of polite comedy. The easiest and yet wisest badinage flickers continually over the surface of a naturally moving stream of narrative so pellucid that nothing in it, event or motive or insinuation, is ever hidden from the at-all-experienced eye. The happy taste which prompted him to name it for the most distinctive and most charming of American seasons no less happily instructed him how to clothe it in a golden,



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