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William Dean Howells

helped introduce European writers to American readers, and challenged American writers to choose American subjects

William Dean Howells

William Dean Howells was born in Martinsville (now Martins Ferry), Ohio, on March 1, 1837. As a youth he worked as a typesetter and printer's apprentice, and educated himself through intensive reading and the study of Spanish, French, Latin, and German. In 1858, he became the city editor of the Ohio State Journal, in which some of his first written work was published.

In 1860, Howells did a lot of work for the presidential campaign of Abraham Lincoln, including the writing of Life of Lincoln (1860). In appreciation, President Lincoln appointed him U.S. Consul in Venice, Italy, where he served until 1865. His second major work, Venetian Life (1866), described his experiences while serving in Venice.

In 1866, Howells joined the staff of the Atlantic Monthly, and served as its editor from 1871 to 1881. During his tenure there, he helped introduce European writers to American readers. He also challenged American writers to choose American subjects and to protray them honestly, and to create characters who used native American speech. As a columnist for Harper's New Monthly ("Editor's Study," 1886-1892, and "Editor's Easy Chair," 1900-1920), Howells campaigned for literary realism that examined life with scientific detachment. He also helped introduce and support a number of writers who themselves became well known, including Stephen Crane, Bret Harte, and Mark Twain.

Many of Howells' novels deal with various issues of his day in an increasingly realistic manner. A Modern Instance (1882) concerns the then daring subject of divorce. The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), generally considered his best work, describes the rise of a businessman to social and civil prominence in a society controlled by families who inherited their positions of influence and power. A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890) potrays the problems of industrialization and the growth of labor unions as a force in American life. An Imperative Duty (1892) deals with racial issues, Annie Kilburn (1888) about the problems of labor, and The Coast of Bohemia (1893) about professions for women.

Howells' essays describing his literary standards and ideals were collected in Criticism and Fiction (1891) and My Literary Passions (1895).

In 1908, Howell was elected the first president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which established the Howells Medal for Fiction in his honor in 1915.

William Dean Howells died of pneumonia on May 11, 1920, in New York City; he is buried in Cambridge Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

His Principal Works
Poems of Two Friends (1860)
Life of Lincoln
Venetian Life
Italian Journeys (1867)
Suburban Sketches
Their Wedding Journey
A Foregone Conclusion (1875)
Private Theatricals (1875)
Sketch of the Life and Character of Rutherford B. Hayes (1876)
A Day's Pleasure (1876--play)
The Parlor Car: A Farce (1876)
Out of the Question: A Comedy (1877)
A Counterfeit Presentment (1877--play)
The Lady of the Aroostook (1879)
The Undiscovered Country (1880)
A Fearful Responsibility, and Other Stories (1881)
Dr. Breen's Practice: A Novel (1881)
A Modern Instance: A Novel
A Woman's Reason (1883)
The Sleeping Car: A Farce (1883)
Three Villages (1884--essays)
The Register: Farce (1884)
A Little Girl among the Old Masters (1884)
The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885)
A Likely Story (1885--play)
The Elevator: Farce (1885)
Tuscan Cities (1886)
The Garroters (1886)
A Chance Acquaintance (1886)
The Minister's Charge (1886)
Indian Summer (1886)
April Hopes (1887)
Their Wedding Journey: with an Additional Chapter (1888)
A Sea-change: or, Love's Stowaway, a Lyricated Farce in Two Acts and an Epilogue (1888)
Annie Kilburn (1889)
The Mouse-Trap and Other Farces (1889)
The Sleeping-Car and Other Farces (1889)
A Boy's Town (1890)
A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890)
The Shadow of a Dream and An Imperative Duty (1890)
The Landlord at Lion's Head
Criticism and Fiction (1891)
An Imperative Duty (1892)
The Albany Depot: A Farce in One Act (1892)
The Quality of Mercy (1892)
A Letter of Introduction: Farce (1892)
A Little Swiss Sojourn (1892)
Christmas Every Day and Other Stories Told for Children (1892)
The World of Chance: A Novel (1893)
My Year in a Log Cabin (1893)
The Coast of Bohemia: A Novel (1893)
Evening Dress: Farce (1893)
The Niagara Book (1893)
A Traveler from Altruria (1894)
Five O'Clock Tea (1894)
Stops of Various Quills (1895--poetry)
My Literary Passions (1895)
Recollections of Life in Ohio, from 1813-1840 (1895)
The Day of Their Wedding (1896)
Impressions and Experiences (1896--essays)
A Parting and a Meeting: Story (1896)
Idyls in Drab
The Country Printer, an Essay (1896)
Stories of Ohio (1897)
An Open-Eyed Conspiracy, an Idyl of Saratoga (1897)
A Previous Engagement: Comedy (1897)
The Story of a Play: A Novel (1898)
Their Silver Wedding Journey (1899)
Ragged Lady, a Novel (1899)
Literary Friends and Acquaintance (1900--essays)
Bride Roses: A Scene (1900)
An Indian Giver: A Comedy (1900)
Room Forty-five: A Farce (1900)
The Smoking Car: A Farce
Heroines of Fiction (1901)
A Pair of Patient Lovers (1901)
The Kentons: A Novel (1902)
The Flight of Pony Baker: A Boy's Town Story (1902)
Literature and Life: Studies (1902)
Letters Home (1903)
Questionable Shapes (1903)
The Son of Royal Langbrith (1904)
Miss Bellard's Inspiration
London Films (1905)
Certain Delightful English Towns, With Glimpses of the Pleasant Country Between (1906)
Through the Eye of the Needle, a Romance (1907)
Between the Dark and the Daylight: Romances
Fennel and Rue: A Novel (1908)
The Whole Family (1908)
Roman Holidays, and Others (1908)
Seven English Cities
The Mother and the Father: Dramatic Passages (1909)
Boy Life (1909)
My Mark Twain
In After Days: Thoughts on the Future Life (1910)
Imaginary Interviews
The Writings of William Dean Howells (1911)
Parting Friends: A Farce (1911)
New Leaf Mills: A Chronicle
Family Spanish Travels (1913)
The Seen and Unseen at Stratford-on-Avon: A Fantasy (1914)
The Leatherwood God (1916)
Years of My Youth (1916--autobiography)
The Daughter of the Storage and Other Things in Prose and Verse
Buying a Horse (1916)
Eighty Years and After (1919)
The Vacation of the Kelwyns, an Idyl of the Middle Eighteen-Seventies (1920)

World Book Encyclopedia Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, Inc., 1979

The William Dean Howells Society

Abraham Lincoln
Mark Twain

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This page was last updated on 10/18/2017.