Nonfiction > Carl Van Doren > The American Novel > Subject Index > Page 155
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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 155

emotions not felt, but finding human nature sufficient for its highest effects.”
  The question is whether Howells’s practice matched the serene consistency of his creed; and the truth is that he shrank from some of its consequences. His gentle nature would not permit him to follow men out of the cheerful sun into those darknesses of the mind and the soul which also belong to the commonplace. He clung to the day as Hawthorne to the night. Having planned just after A Modern Instance to write a novel which should take some of its characters to Hong-Kong, he abandoned it because in “reading up” for his Chinese chapters he had come across details of the night side of the city which horrified and disturbed him into unwillingness to touch the material again. Like Emerson, he closed his eyes to evil and its innumerable traces. His America, transcribed so fully as it is, is still an America of the smooth surfaces. Great peaks of drama do not rise upon it; passion does not burrow into it nor adventure run over it with exciting speed. Not quite as a Puritan as a pedant, Howells none the less employed a selective, a respectable, an official realism. He chose his subjects as a sage chooses his conversation, decently. To state these limitations is, however, to accuse Howells of nothing worse than the uncommon sin of too much gentleness. They ask him to stand on the mountain of fame a little further off from Ibsen and a little nearer Irving; nearer Thackeray than Tolstoy; nearer Daudet than Balzac. They remind his austerer critics that Goldsmith has outlasted a dozen austerer novelists. They challenge the historian to assert that



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