Friday, May 30, 2008

the father of Silas Lapham

De-Listed - Brainiac - The Boston Globe: "Silas Lapham is a Yankee farmer who becomes a prosperous paint manufacturer and builds a house in Boston's newly fashionable Back Bay; Howells describes him taking a detour to wonder at the pile driver digging his foundation pit. 'Mrs. Lapham,' writes Howells, 'suffered him to enjoy the sight twenty or thirty times before she said, 'Well now drive on, Si.' ' In the famous apartment search that opens 'A Hazard of New Fortunes,' Basil March marvels at his wife's ability to imagine their future in every bare and shabby flat they visit: 'She got a lot of pleasure as well as excitement out of this, and he had to own that the process of setting up housekeeping in so many different places was not only entertaining, but tended, through association with their first beginnings in housekeeping, to restore the image of their early married days and to make them young again.' There are, as Howells once admitted, no 'palpitating divans' in his novels; they've been replaced by that other great pleasure - the loving irony of domestic banter.

But the 20th century was cruel to marriage, and it was cruel to Howells. He stands now as the great anti-failure of American literature. Where writers like Melville and Fitzgerald died in debt and obscurity only to be covered in posthumous glory, Howells slid in the exact opposite direction. He was the most popular literary author of his day, and was moved to the front office (he became president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1908) when his creative gift could no longer deliver the crowds. But instead of a posthumous revival, or even just a harmless posthumous neglect, he received one posthumous drubbing after another. "


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