At first the tone and subjects of these skirmishes were somewhat jocular, and Howells felt confident of his position—which valued realism for its opposition to the impossible simplifications of romance. In early he joked that his columns were "banging the babes of Romance about" and that his new novel, April Hopes , would aim "for the covert discouragement of love-marriages, and the promotion of broken engagements" Selected Letters 3: However in the second half of the decade Howells experienced several significant upheavals that transformed him as an artist and a public figure.
The first upheaval was a sort of literary conversion experience: In Tolstoy's works Howells found a powerful model for the social function of literature, a comparatively radical critique of modern industrial society , and a moral outlook that stressed the complicity of the privileged classes in the economic ills of the age. Tolstoy's ethics and art slowly precipitated a certain political clarity and social purpose in Howells's thinking, and one hears the echo of Tolstoy's title in the refrain "What is the next thing?
The second upheaval resulted from the trial, conviction, and execution of the "anarchists" charged in the Haymarket Square bombing. Despite his discovery of Tolstoy, Howells was slow to perceive the severity of corporate capitalism's impact on the United States.
In the September "Editor's Study," Howells wrote that Fyodor Dostoevsky's "formidable and disquieting" and "profoundly tragic" literary style would not apply to American subjects because "there were so few shadows and inequalities in our broad level of prosperity" Editor's Study, pp.
These comments were likely written about four months before the column was published—shortly after the events at Haymarket Square in May. At least at first, then, Howells failed to see a connection between the Haymarket bombing and literary concerns. By the summer of , however, he was actively soliciting professional colleagues to join him in protesting the murder conviction of the seven men, whom he now believed had been tried "for socialism and not for murder" and were "doomed to suffer for their opinion's sake" Selected Letters 3: He spent several months trying to secure a pardon for the convicted anarchists, and he was the only prominent American to criticize publicly their conviction and execution.
The experience turned Howells's thinking explicitly toward the manifest social and political injustices that these men decried.
A Hazard of New Fortunes
The magazine brings together an unlikely collection of people including the man of letters Basil March, the Southern apologist Colonel Woodburn, the socialist immigrant Lindau, the nouveau riche capitalist Dryfoos, and his Christ-like son Conrad. But at the gaudy dinner intended to advertise their collective success, grave differences among the contributors—and within industrialized America—foreshadow inevitable violence to come. The hobby was out, [and] the Colonel was in the saddle with so firm a seat that no effort sufficed to dis-lodge him.
The dinner went on from course to course with barbaric profusion, and from time to time Fulkerson tried to bring the talk back to Every Other Week. But perhaps because that was only the ostensible and not the real object of the dinner, which was to bring a number of men together under Dryfoos's roof, and make them the witnesses of his splendor, make them feel the power of his wealth, Fulkerson's attempts failed.
The Colonel showed how commercialism was the poison at the heart of our national life; how we began as a simple, agricultural people, who had fled to these shores with the instinct, divinely implanted, of building a state such as the sun never shone upon before; how we had conquered the wilderness and the savage; how we had flung off, in our struggle with the mother country, the trammels of tradition and precedent, and had settled down, a free nation, to the practice of the arts of peace; how the spirit of commercialism had stolen insidiously upon us, and the infernal impulse of competition had embroiled us in a perpetual warfare of interests, developing the worst passions of our nature, and teaching us to trick and betray and destroy one another in the strife for money, till now that impulse had exhausted itself, and we found competition gone and the whole economic problem in the hands of the monopolies—the Standard Oil Company , the Sugar Trust, the Rubber Trust, and what not.
And now what was the next thing? Affairs could not remain as they were; it was impossible; and what was the next thing? All the rest listened silently, except Lindau; at every point the Colonel made against the present condition of things he said more and more fiercely, "You are righdt, you are righdt.
When the Colonel demanded, "And what is the next thing? What is the next thing? These experiences led Howells, like so many other intellectuals of the period, to explicit contemplation of social solutions.
Edward Bellamy 's novel Looking Backward, — sparked a national craze for utopian texts, and Howells not only reviewed it favorably but also participated in the organization of the first Nationalist Club in Boston. Such clubs, dedicated to studying and promoting the ideas set forth in the book, were soon established nationwide. Howells also read socialist texts, heard Christian Socialist sermons, and attended socialist meetings.
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In January he told his father that "I incline greatly to think our safety and happiness are in that direction; though as yet the Socialists offer us nothing definite or practical to take hold of " Selected Letters 3: That shedding of blood which is for the remission of sins had been symbolized by the bombs and scaffolds of Chicago, and the hearts of those who felt the wrongs bound up with our rights, the slavery implicated in our liberty, were thrilling with griefs and hopes hitherto strange to the average American breast. Howells's political and social ruminations were heightened by his move to New York City in February The Howells family was always moving; he once wrote to his sister, "I suppose you wouldn't be much surprised at getting a letter from me in the moon" Selected Letters 3: Still, the Boston area—his wife's native ground and the nation's historic intellectual center—had been home base since Howells arrived as a young "westerner" from Ohio.
When they moved to New York, Howells thought Boston "of another planet" compared to New York's "foreign touches of all kinds" and "abounding Americanism" Selected Letters 3: The intracultural shock sparked Howells's imagination. He found himself keeping notes and writing sketches in the familiar role of a traveler, and he called the beginning of Hazard simply "my N. The last major upheaval of this period was an intense personal shock: From a modern medical perspective it seems likely that Winny suffered some form of anorexia nervosa , a disease virtually unknown to doctors at the time.
A few months before her death at age twenty-six, her weight had fallen to fifty-eight pounds. After years of moving from place to place seeking treatments, Howells ultimately insisted that she be sent to Philadelphia for treatment by S. Weir Mitchell , the prominent doctor whose "rest cure" for "hysterical" women inspired Charlotte Perkins Gilman 's psychological horror story "The Yellow Wall-Paper" Winny was thus away from home when she died, leaving Howells with a crushing sense of guilt.
His grief profoundly changed his perception of life and cast a long shadow over the ending of the novel. While the major building blocks of A Hazard of New Fortunes were already gathering in his mind, the Harper publishing house initiated the project. In September , Henry Mills Alden, editor of Harper's Monthly Magazine and longtime house literary advisor, wrote a letter suggesting that Howells undertake a "feuilleton," a series of literary stories or sketches, for Harper's Weekly. Alden and the Harpers envisioned "something very strong and striking" that would "be a powerful presentation of the life of our great metropolis" Kirk, pp.
Such sketches were common in the timely and highly illustrated Weekly, and Howells's publishers felt that his controversial status as literary realist and defender of anarchists would help the project to "command the interest of all classes" Kirk, p. Howells declined to do the sketches and instead wrote a novel for serialization.
Interestingly, when the Howells-like Basil March attempts a similar series of "picturesque" sketches within the novel, their social value becomes an explicit subject of discussion. The magazine business also inspired the novel's central organizing device: As Howells explained to his father, "Basil March simply comes to New York in charge of a literary enterprise, and the fortunes of this periodical form the plot, such as there is" Selected Letters 3: Hazard is thus both a commercial narrative of urban exploration and a commentary upon such literary forms.
Howells began the novel in October while he and his wife were, like the fictional Marches, apartment hunting. Just before Christmas of that year Howells reported: By the time of Winny's death in March of the next year, the first installment was about to appear. His despair "took away everything but work," which he pursued "through the leaden hours and days" Hazard, p. In May Howells retreated to the Boston area, where the novel seemed to unfold "nearly without my conscious agency" Hazard, p. Howells recalled writing "with the printer at my heels" p.
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Rogers, the prominent Harpers artist and cartoonist who illustrated the serial, reported that "I never saw more than three installments ahead, and that only at the beginning. Later on I had often to read hastily the galley proofs on Thursday afternoon and turn in my drawing Friday morning" p. The Marches first appeared in Their Wedding Journey and reappear in several other stories.
Despite being familiar and semiautobiographical characters, Howells reports that "when I began speaking of them as Basil and Isabel, in the fashion of Their Wedding Journey, they would not respond with the effect of early middle age which I desired in them. It was not till I tried addressing them as March and Mrs. March that they stirred under my hand with fresh impulse" Hazard, p. Dryfoos gives his son, Conrad, the job of business manager for the magazine in order to try to dissuade him from becoming an Episcopalian priest.
Artist by the name of Angus Beaton, an old friend of Fulkerson's, is chosen to head the art department. Beaton chooses Alma Leighton, for whom he has feelings, to illustrate the cover of the first issue. Berthold Lindau, an old friend of Basil March's and his former German teacher and a veteran of the American Civil War , becomes the translator. Lindau knows many languages, so he selects and translates Russian, French, and German stories to publish in the magazine.
Lindau lost his hand in a Civil War battle, fighting for the North because he was a strong abolitionist and an idealistic American immigrant. Colonel Woodburn, a wealthy Southerner, and his daughter move to New York and become involved with the newspaper when their social circle connects with the magazine's through Alma Leighton; they board with Alma Leighton and her mother.
Fulkerson decides that he would like to publish some of Colonel Woodburn's pro- slavery writings in Every Other Week , because he believes it would sell more copies of the new magazine. At a dinner banquet, the political views of Dryfoos the capitalist , Lindau the socialist , and Colonel Woodburn the pro-slavery advocate clash.
Lindau fiercely criticizes Dryfoos, expressing his harshest feelings in German to March, because he does not think anyone else at the table speaks German. Later we learn that Dryfoos speaks German, and he was insulted by Lindau's comments.
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In the end of the book, the New York City streetcar drivers strike. The strike, similar to the Haymarket Riot , turns into a riot. Conrad Dryfoos, already a humanitarian helping the poor and working class, is charmed by the lovely Margaret Vance, who shares his values of charity. She encourages Conrad to try to end the strike by telling all sides to desist. While attempting to stop a policeman from beating the aged and disabled Lindau, Conrad is fatally shot.
March emerges from a streetcar to see the fallen men lying on the street next to each other. He makes interesting use of irony. However, unlike Twain, the book doesn't hang together or flow as a novel. I can't detail why; contributing factors may be that the plot is very slow moving, and the dialog is artificial, with page-long monologues. He also makes atrocious use of dialect, esp.
At another level the characters are detailed too much; Howells uses description of their thoughts and fills in details rather than letting the reader construct from the characters' action and dialog.