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


Page 153

but he never once condescends to the boy or winks over his head at the beholders. The relations of Kenton and his wife and of both of them to their children are presented, though so easily, with the nicest shades of distinction, as if their creator not only seemed to employ no artifices but did employ none. Only the masters of narrative can tell a story which, like this, is clear yet full, continuous yet unhurried, balanced yet as natural as the flow of water or the movement of clouds across a blue sky. If not a great novel The Kentons is still a perfect one.
  It is to the difficult distinction between perfection and greatness that critical discussions of Howells always finally arrive. With few authors as eminent does it seem so hard to find the master conveniently distilled in a few masterpieces ready for transportation to posterity. His hand, like Andrea del Sarto’s, worked flawlessly from first to last, but never quite supremely. A Chance Acquaintance, A Modern Instance, The Rise of Silas Lapham, Indian Summer, A Hazard of New Fortunes, The Kentons, all admirable, do not stand more than measurably forth from the remainder of his novels. He must be studied rather in his total work, as the intimate historian of his age, who produced the most extended and accurate transcript of American life yet made by one man. Geographically, indeed, he was limited in the main to Ohio, New England, and New York, and to those parts of Europe and America in which Ohioans, New Englanders, and New Yorkers spend their vacations. He was conditioned, too, by his historical position as editor and arbiter so long in Boston at the declining end of an epoch, when taste ran rather



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