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


Page 148

done, for a future in New York, is not content merely to point out the unfamiliar fashions of life which they meet but is full of conscience regarding the evils of the modern social order. Or rather, Howells had turned from the clash of those lighter manners which belong to comedy and had set himself to discuss the profounder manners of the race which belong to morals and religion. He wrote at a moment of hope, at the end of a decade which had disturbed the heavy stagnation following the Civil War: “We had passed,” he afterwards said, “through a period of strong emotioning in the direction of the humaner economics, if I may phrase it so; the rich seemed not so much to despise the poor, the poor did not so hopelessly repine. The solution of the riddle of the painful earth through the dreams of Henry George, through the dreams of Edward Bellamy, through the dreams of all the generous visionaries of the past, seemed not impossibly far off.” In this mood Howells’s theme compelled him so much that the story moved forward almost without his conscious agency, “though,” he carefully insists, “I should not like to intimate anything mystical in the fact.” A Hazard of New Fortunes, which encountered greater immediate favor than any of his previous novels, outdoes them all, and the subsequent ones too, in its conduct of different groups of characters, in the perfect naturalness with which now one and now another rises to the surface of the narrative and then retreats at the due moment without a trace of management. New Englanders, Southerners, Westerners, all appear in their true native colors, as do various ranks of society, and many professions, in their proper dress and gesture.



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