Monday, July 25, 2016
One reason why William Dean Howells is largely forgotten
Strangely, William Dean Howells's The Rise of Silas Lapham becomes, following the dinner party at which Lapham disgraces himself by turning into a voluble drunk, more of a Lifetime movie than an expose of social class, American capitalism, and the clash of old v new money. After the dinner party, Tom Corey finally and at last tells Lapham's older daughter, Penelope, that he loves her; she's overwhelmed, obviously loves him too, but knows that her sister and her entire family had thought he was interested in younger sister, the beautiful Irene. She orders him out, says she never wants to see him again - but we know the love each other, and so? Next morning after a sleepless night she tells her mother all, and then the Lapham seniors face the difficult decision of what to tell Irene. After much trepidation, dialog, and even some counseling with a minister whom they slightly know, they decide it's best to break one heart rather than three - and mother tells Irene. All this would be much, much more interesting if, a, we hadn't known so much more than any of the rather unperceptive characters all along, and, b, if WDH could write with an degree of economy. He repeats himself - repeatedly! As if he was being paid by the word (maybe he was). I love long, complex, highly developed dialog, esp if it advances the plot (though not necessarily) but his dialog just covers the same ground over and over - the main reason, I think, that he is largely forgotten and his peers - Twain, James - are still read widely, at least among English majors.