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


Page 223

direction of studied raciness or strenuous naturalism. Howells’s honest decency set the tone for the period. As the master was often saved from seeming thin and tame only by his unfailing grace and mellow wisdom, the disciples, inferior in these respects, did not always escape thinness or tameness. The preoccupation with local color encouraged love of surfaces, if not a satisfaction with surfaces alone; so that, though the local color novel was likely to be a more serious performance than the short story of the type, it nevertheless suffered from the contagion of triviality. The fiction of the eighties suffered, too, from the delicate contagion of gentility. At the best it imparted daintiness and charm; at the worst, timidity and bloodlessness. The violent currents of political life during the decade, which brought a new party into power for the first time in a quarter of a century; the rising warfare upon established economic privilege; the rapid growth in luxury and sophistication—these but faintly appear in the novels which the decade brought forth, except for those specifically designed to redress grievances or to expose wrongs. Ordinarily, ideas played but a small part. Nor was this absence of ideas compensated for, again except in special cases, by large ranges of personality or depths of passion or impressive beauty or truth. The lives which these novels represent have little to do with the clash of the times in religious or moral, any more than in political, matters. Even in the love affairs which make up the great bulk of all such narratives the complications are of the simplest and the psychology simpler still. The very young do most of the loving, innocently, pathetically, hardly ever realistically or



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