The Dean of American Letters
The Late Career of William Dean HowellseBook - 1999
The final volume of John W. Crowley's trilogy of works on William Dean Howells, this book focuses on the much neglected last decades of the author's life. It was during this period that Howells, already well known as a writer, became a kind of cultural icon, the so-called "Dean of American Letters." Beginning with A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), Crowley sets Howells's later life and work into a personal as well as a public context. He traces the gradual construction of Howells's "Deanship" and its disastrous effects on his reputation, as the self-consciously aging writer sought to adapt, sometimes painfully, to a rapidly changing literary marketplace. We see Howells targeting audiences, trying to generate saleable ideas, worrying about marketing, and reflecting on the influence of commercial competition on art and creativity. In the end, Crowley sees Howells's rise to prominence as an early manifestation of the commodification of culture that came to dominate American letters during the twentieth century. At the same time, he succeeds in conveying the humane virtues that Howells never relinquished -- his graciousness, his humility, and his geniality.