William Dean Howells and the Roots of Modern Taste

"William Dean Howells and the Roots of Modern Taste." Partisan Review 18 (September-October 1951): 516-36.


Every now and then in the past few years we have heard that we might soon expect a revival of interest in the work of William Dean Howells. And certainly, if this rumor were sustained, there would be a notable propriety in the event. In the last two decades Henry James has become established as a great magnetic figure in our higher culture. In the same period Mark Twain has become as it were newly established—not indeed, like James, as a source and object of intellectual energy, but at least as a permanent focus of our admiring interest, as the representative of a mode of the American mind and temperament which we are happy to acknowledge To say that Henry James and Mark Twain are opposite poles of our national character would be excessive, yet it is clear that they do suggest tendencies which are very far apart, so that there is always refreshment and enlightenment in thinking of them together….It would make a pleasant symmetry if we could know that William Dean Howells has become the object of renewed admiration, that he is being regarded, like his two great friends, as a large, significant figure in our literature.

Google Books - essay in The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent
Boston University - Partisan Review archive - first published version