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


Page 150

by comparison with the jagged, multicolored, whirling, rowdy, gorgeous reality which even then lay under his eyes and which since that day has grown in a hundred respects out of its former likeness. This deficiency of depth and texture in the background, however, of qualities which Howells was too newly come to New York to have been able to capture, does not deprive the story of a very real substance, solidly conceived, felicitously portrayed, and warmed with a quick wit and an affectionate understanding.
  The thirty years yet remaining of Howells’s life brought no marked new development. In 1891 he summed up his critical position in Criticism and Fiction, declaring “I am in hopes that the communistic era in taste foreshadowed by Burke is approaching, and that it will occur within the lives of men now overawed by the foolish old superstition that literature and art are anything but the expression of life, and are to be judged by any other test than that of their fidelity to it”; and at the same time declaring, as if to set limits to the naturalism thus implied, that “[if] a novel flatters the passions, and exalts them above the principles, it is poisonous.” The next year Howells succeeded George William Curtis in “The Easy Chair” of Harper’s and wrote thenceforth monthly articles which, less exclusively literary than those in “The Editor’s Study,” carried on the same tradition. There and elsewhere his light, practised pen kept pace with American literary production, commenting on new authors and tendencies with an unwearied generosity which still never violated his central principles. Reminiscences and travels assumed a larger part in his work. After A Boy’s Town



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