William Dean Howells: Brief Chronology of Selected Works and Events

Note: This brief and selective chronology is intended as a quick reference
for those working on Howells.  It is by no means comprehensive.  For
more biographical information, see Edwin Cady’s two-volume biography of Howells
and John Crowley’s The Black Heart’s Truth, both of which served as sources
for the information below;  Kenneth Lynn’s 1971 biography;  Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson”s William Dean Howells: A Writer’s Life (2005); and other
works. For information on texts, see the Indiana edition
of Howells’s works, William Gibson and George Arms’s A Bibliography of William
Dean Howells
(New York Public Library, 1948; Arno Press, 1971), American
Literary Realism
(1969, 1972). If not otherwise specified, page references are to Goodman and Dawson. Please cite this page if you are using the information.

Go to a list of Howells’s residences.

(Titles and dates of first American editions appear as listed
in the University of California’s Melvyl library system and checked against
the Facts on File bibliography listing on Howells. . Please e-mail corrections to this chronology.)






March 1.  William Dean Howells is born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, to
William Cooper and Mary Dean Howells, the second child and second son of
their eight children. His older brother, Joseph (“Joe”), was born in 1832.May 1. Elinor Gertrude Mead, whom Howells will marry in 1862, is born.
1838 Howells’s sister Victoria (“Vic) is born (1838-1886)
  •  William Cooper Howells becomes editor of the Hamilton, Ohio,
    Intelligencer and publishes a Swedenborgian newspaper called The
    on the side from 1843-1844.
  • Howells’s brother Sam is born (1840-1925)
1842 Howells’s sister Aurelia is born (1842-1931).
1844 Howells’s sister Anne is born (1844-1938).
1846 Howells’s brother John is born (1846-1864).
1848 Trying to gather support for the Free Soil party, William Cooper Howells
quits the Intelligencer over a matter of principle. The family moves
to Dayton, Eureka Mills, and other places in Ohio.
1849 The Howells family moves to Dayton, and W. C. Howells publishes the first issue of the Dayton Transcript on May 17.WDH has a mild case of cholera.
  • WCH’s employment ends in August when the Transcript closes its doors.
  • In the fall, the Howells family moves to Eureka Mills, a communal society complete with gristmills and sawmills on the banks of the Little Miami River. Howells later writes of this experience in My Year in a Log Cabin and New Leaf Mills.
  • Winter. The Howells family leaves Eureka Mills and moves to Columbus for 18 months. WCH works as a legislative reporter for the Ohio State Journal.
  • Howells works as a printer.  According to
    Edwin Cady, Howells could “set type at six, was a useful hand at nine, and
    when he was eleven he could set five thousand ems a day, a man’s work” (The
    Road to Realism
  • Among WDH’s early pieces is a “verse tragedy set in ancient Rome and a mock epic, ‘The Battle of the Cats'” (21).
  • WDH begins to teach himself Spanish.
  • Without William Dean Howells’s knowledge, his father has one of WDH’s
    poems published in the Ohio State Journal.
  • Howells’s brother Henry is born (1853-1908). A childhood accident renders him mentally disabled, and Aurelia spends her life in caring for him.
  • WCH loses his job on May 3 when the legislature adjourns. He buys a share in the Ashtabula Sentinel, and the family moves to Ashtabula where WCH becomes editor of the paper.
  • The Ashtabula Sentinel moves its offices to Jefferson, the county seat, and the Howells family moves there.
Howells’s first published fiction, “A Tale of Love and Politics, Adventures of a Printer Boy,” appears in the Ashtabula Sentinel
  • Summer. Howells continues to work for the Sentinel as a typesetter but eventually stops because of his hypochondriacal illnesses. He anxiously begins to believe that he will die of hydrophobia (rabies) before he reaches 17 and suffers from “incapacitating migraines” (27). Cooler fall weather brings some relief of his symptoms.
WDH publishes The Independent Candidate, a serialized novel, in the Sentinel during the fall and winter.
1855 After a month of reading law with Ben Wade in preparation for being a lawyer, Howells quits and returns to the print shop.
1856 William Cooper Howells is elected Clerk of the State House of Representatives.
  • Howells returns to Columbus to write a column (“Letter from Columbus”) for the Daily Cincinnati
    , signing his name as “Jeffersonian.” He begins to learn German and to admire the poet Heinrich Heine.
  • March. Howells is offered the city editorship of the Cincinnati Gazette but moves to Cincinnati only briefly before leaving the job to go back home.
  • Autumn. Howells returns to Columbus begins work for the Ohio State Journal, writing
    reviews, poems, and stories, and translating stories from French, German,
    and Spanish newspapers.
  • Howells enters Columbus society when he is invited to a dinner at the home of Salmon P. Chase, who would be Lincoln’s Secretary of State.
WDH publishes nine letters in the Sentinel based on his experiences traveling by steamboat to St. Louis.
  • The Atlantic Monthly accepts WDH’s poem “Andenken” for publication.
  • John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. Like his father, WDH admired Brown but was later troubled by his violent methods.
Poems of Two Friends (December 1859)
  • Follett, of Follett and Fowler, the publishers of Poems of Two Friends, suggests to WDH that he write a campaign biography of Lincoln, stipulating that it must be done before Lincoln’s nomination on May 18. WDH finishes writing the biography in a week (50).
  • Howells meets Elinor Mead, his future wife.
  • He travels to Boston
    and Concord (see Literary Friends and Acquaintance) where he meets
    J. T. Fields, Lowell, Holmes, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Emerson.
  • Lives and Speeches of Abraham Lincoln (campaign biography)
1861  Sails from New York to Liverpool and then Venice to take up consular
1862  Christmas Eve.  Marries Elinor Mead at the American embassy
in Paris.
1863 December 17. First child, Winifred, born to WD and Elinor Howells.
  • Article on “Recent Italian Comedy” for North American Review
  • Returns to America and begins to work for The Nation
1865-66  WDH lives in New York as a freelance journalist.
1866 Meets James T. Fields on January 7; Fields offers Howells the assistant
editorship of the Atlantic Monthly a few days later. Howells settles
on Berkeley St. in Cambridge, Mass.
Venetian Life 
1867 Italian Journeys
1868 August 14. The Howellses’ second child, John Mead Howells, is born.

  • Howells’s mother dies.
  • Howells refuses the offer of a professorship in Rhetoric from Union
Love Lost: A Romance of Travel”
(Putnam’s, Dec. 1868)
1869  Howells meets Mark Twain in Fields’s office, the beginning of a
friendship that will last the rest of their lives.
1870 August. The Howells family moves from Sacramento Street to 3 Berkeley Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts.Howells lectures at Harvard. “A
Romance of Real Life”
(Atlantic, March)
1871top   July 1.  Howells becomes the Editor of the Atlantic
, a post he will keep for the next ten years.
Suburban Sketches (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1871)
Wedding Journey.
Howells’s first novel.(Boston: Osgood, 1871)
  • The Howellses design and build a house at 37 Concord Avenue in Cambridge.
  • 26 September. The Howellses’ third child, daughter Mildred,  is
1873 A Chance Acquaintance
Augmented edition: 1886.
1875 WD and Elinor Howells stay at the Shaker colony in Shirley, Massachusetts (Goodman and Dawson 393). A Foregone Conclusion
Private Theatricals (published
as Mrs. Farrell in 1921) serialized in the November, 1875 Atlantic.
It is the only one of Howells’s novels not immediately published in book
form after serialization.
1876 Some time before this summer, Howells attends a performance
of Euripedes’Medea, an experience that inspires A Modern Instance.
  • Sketch of the Life and Character of Rutherford B. Hayes.
    (campaign biography)
  • A Day’s Pleasure (play)
  • The Parlor Car: A Farce
  • Howells establishes the “Contributors Club” feature in the Atlantic
    in January.
  • Whittier Birthday Dinner
Out of the Question: A Comedy
A Counterfeit Presentment
1879 The Lady of the Aroostook
  The Undiscovered Country
1881 1 March. Howells resigns from the editorship of the Atlantic (Goodman and Dawson 212). A Fearful Responsibility, and Other Stories
Doctor Breen’s
Practice: A Novel
  • The Howells family arrives in England; they spend the winter in
    Venice, where WDH gathers materials for his book Tuscan Cities.
  • WDH declines a professorship at Johns Hopkins University. He had already
    declined one at Washington University during the seventies.
A Modern Instance: A Novel
A Fearful Responsibility and
Tonelli’s Marriage
1883 A Woman’s Reason
The Sleeping Car: A Farce
1884 August.  Howells buys a house at 302 Beacon Street in Boston, two
doors away from Oliver Wendell Holmes.
  • January. Howells begins writing the “Editor’s
    column for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.  It contains
    some of his best criticism, and several pieces will be collected in Criticism
    and Fiction.
  • Harvard offers WDH the Smith Professorship previously held by Longfellow
    and Lowell.  Howells declines.
  • February-March. Howells spends time in Washington, D. C. with John
    Hay and Henry Adams.

May 4. During an Anarchist meeting in Haymarket Square, Chicago, bombs explode,
killing one man and injuring seven more.  In the absence of suspects,
eight Anarchists are charged with murder and seven are sentenced to hang.
Outraged at the injustice, WDH writes a letter to the New York Tribune
in protest, and, after the men are hanged on November 11, an editorial letter
called “A Word for the Dead.”

  • Indian Summer (Harper’s Monthly, July 1885-); Boston:
    Ticknor, 1886.
  • Tuscan Cities
  • Dr. Breen’s Practice
  • The Garroters (farce)
1887 Hamlin Garland meets Howells while the Howellses are at a resort in Auburndale, Massachusetts (Goodman and Dawson 318). The Minister’s Charge
Modern Italian Poets: Essays and
(derived from the Lowell Lectures delivered at Harvard
in 1870)
  • April Hopes
  • Mark Twain’s Library of Humor
  • Their Wedding Journey: with an Additional Chapter
  • A Sea-change : or, Love’s Stowaway, a Lyricated Farce in Two Acts
    and an Epilogue
1889 2 March. Winifred Howells dies of heart failure. Hoping to cure his daughter Winnie’s persistent and mysterious illness,
Howells puts her under the care of Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, originator of the
“rest cure” made famous in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
Howells writes to Mark Twain,  “If she could have been allowed to read,
I think the experiment might have succeeded, but I think the privation has
thrown her thoughts back upon her, and made her morbid and hypochondriacal”
(Crowley 116). Mitchell and others have diagnosed Winnie’s illness as psychological
in origin, but an autopsy reveals physical disease of a kind not stated. At one point Winifred weighed only 59 pounds, which to the modern eye raises the specter of anorexia. At her death, she weighed 79 pounds, but, as biographers Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson note, “The combination of vigorous exercise and a diet of fatty foods can themselves trigger a heart attack in someone who has been underweight for several years” (295).
The death devastates WD and Elinor Howells.
  • Annie Kilburn
  • The Mouse-Trap and Other Farces
  • The Sleeping-Car and Other Farces
  • (Edited with Thomas Sergeant Perry) Library of Universal Adventure
    by Sea and Land; Including Original Narratives and Authentic Stories of
    Personal Prowess and Peril in all the Waters and Regions of the Globe
    from the Year 79 A.D. to the Year 1888 A. D
An  “Editor’s Study” column criticizes Harold
‘s In the Valley but praises Seth’s Brother’s Wife
(1887) and The Lawton Girl (1890).  In 1899, Howells lists Frederic’s
masterpiece, The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896), as one of the country’s
major serious novels.
  • A Hazard of New Fortunes
  • The
    Shadow of a Dream
  • A Boy’s Town Described for “Harper’s Young People”  (memoir)
  • Howells moves to New York, and, according to Edwin Cady and others,
    brings the “literary center of the country” with him.
  • Assumes editorship of Cosmopolitan and writes Altrurian Sketches for it.
  • Howells’s son John graduates from Harvard.
Criticism and Fiction
1892 March. Howells’s last column for the “Editor’s Study”
  • An
    Imperative Duty
  • The Albany Depot: A Farce in One Act  (NY: Samuel French,
  • The Quality of Mercy
  • A Letter of Introduction: Farce
  • A Little Swiss Sojourn
  • Christmas Every Day and Other Stories Told for Children
1893 March. Stephen
sends Howells a copy of Maggie. He writes to Howells on
28 March asking why he has received no response; Howells replies immediately,
saying that he has not yet read the book. According to The Crane Log,
Crane again writes to Howells on 8 April “asking for a recommendation
to Edwin L. Godkin, editor of the New York Evening Post. Howells
replies on the same day, advising Crane to show Godkin a letter from Howells
to Crane that praised Maggie” (91). According to Edwin Cady’s
The Realist at War, Howells “used the convenient outlet of a
newspaper interview to announce his discovery of ‘a remarkable writer’ and
to praise Maggie” (214). WDH reads the manuscripts of George’s
Crane’s poems, and The Third Violet, but not The Red
Badge of Courage
The World of Chance: A Novel (serial
version at MOA)

My Year in a Log Cabin (essay and memoir;
reprinted from 1887 article for Youth’s Companion)
The Coast
of Bohemia: A Novel
Man of Letters as a Man of Business”
Scribner’s 14 (October 1893):
429-446.Evening Dress: FarceThe Niagara Book (with Mark Twain and Nathaniel Southgate Shaler) (Buffalo: Underhill and Nichols)
1894  Howells’s father dies.WDH visits his son, John, who is studying architecture in France.
1895 Begins “Life and Letters” essay review column for Harper’s Weekly (March
30, 1895-February 26, 1898)
  • Stops of Various Quills (poems)
  • My Literary Passions
  • Recollections of Life in Ohio, from 1813-1840
1896  On the recommendation of James Herne, WDH reads Paul Laurence Dunbar’s
privately printed Majors and Minors and praises it in his Harper’s
“Life and Letters” column.  He persuades literary agent
Ripley Hitchcock to place Dunbar’s work and writes an introduction
for Dunbar’s next volume, Lyrics of Lowly Life.
  • The
    Day of Their Wedding
  • Impressions and Experiences (essays)
  • A Parting and a Meeting (story)
  • Idyls in Drab (includes The Day of Their Wedding and
    A Parting and  a Meeting)
  • The Country Printer, an Essay
1897 WDH goes to Germany.
  • The Landlord at Lion’s Head
  • An Open-Eyed Conspiracy
  • Stories of Ohio (children’s history)
  • An Open-Eyed Conspiracy, an Idyl of Saratoga
  • A Previous Engagement: Comedy 
  • 1898
  • Begins essay-review column “American Literature” for Literature
    May 14, 1898-November 10, 1899).
  • Frank
    comes to Howells’s attention with the publication of Moran
    of the “Lady Letty.”
    WDH later reviews McTeague, and a grateful
    Norris sends him a presentation copy of The Octopus.
The Story of a Play: A Novel
1899 Failure of Harper & Brothers. Col. George Harvey is placed in charge,
and WDH  begins to write a monthly column, the “Editor’s Easy Chair,”
for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.
Their Silver Wedding Journey
Ragged Lady, a Novel
Howells begins to write the “Editor’s Easy Chair” column for
Harper’s (Anesko 318)
  • Literary Friends and Acquaintance (essays)
  • Bride Roses: A Scene
  • An Indian Giver: A Comedy
  • The Landlord at Lion’s Head: A Novel
  • Room Forty-Five; A Farce
  • The Smoking Car: A Farce
1901 Heroines of FictionA Pair of Patient Lovers
1902 WDH purchases summer home at Kittery Point, Maine (Anesko 319)
  • The Kentons: A Novel
  • The Flight of Pony Baker: A Boy’s Town Story
  • Literature and Life: Studies
1903 Letters Home (novel)
Questionable Shapes
1904 WDH receives a Litt. D. from Oxford. The Son of Royal Langbrith
  • Miss Bellard’s Inspiration
  • “Editha” is published in Harper’s Monthly (January 1905) and
    reprinted in Between the Dark and the Daylight.
  • London Films (travel)
  • Certain Delightful English Towns, With Glimpses of the Pleasant
    Country Between
  • Through the Eye of the Needle, a Romance
  • Between the Dark and the Daylight: Romances
1908 Elected first president of the American Academy of Arts and
Letters.Travels to Italy.
  • Fennel and Rue: A Novel
  • The Whole Family (collaborative novel with eleven other writers,
    including Henry
    , Mary
    E. Wilkins Freeman
    , and Alice Brown)
  • Roman Holidays, and Others
1909 Trip to Wales, Ireland,and the Continent (Anesko 320). Seven English Cities
The Mother and the Father: Dramatic

Boy life; stories and readings selected from the works
of William Dean Howells, and arranged for supplementary reading in elementary
(ed. Percival Chubb)
1910top 21 April. Death of Mark Twain.6 May. Death of Elinor Mead Howells.
  • My Mark Twain
  • In After Days: Thoughts on the Future Life (Authors included:
    Howells, William Dean;James, Henry; Bigelow, John; Higginson, Thomas Wentworth;
    Alden, Henry Mills;Thomson, William Hanna; Ferrero, Guglielmo; Howe, Julia
    Ward; Ward, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.)
  • Imaginary Interviews
1911  Howells joins with Edith
and others in an attempt to get the Nobel Prize in literature
for Henry James.  The attempt is unsuccessful.WDH travels to Bermuda and Spain (Anesko 320)
The Writings of William Dean Howells (edition)
Friends: A Farce
1912 House of Harper stages an elaborate birthday celebration for WDH’s 75th
birthday.  Among those sending or reading tributes are Henry James,
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and Franklin Sanborn.
1913 New Leaf Mills: A Chronicle  (based on the Howells family’s
Eureka Mills experiment)
Familiar Spanish Travels
1914 The Seen and Unseen at Stratford-on-Avon: A Fantasy  (story)
1915 Harper’s agrees to pay Howells $5,000 a year for the “Editor’s Easy Chair”
and occasional introductions to books. WDH buys a Model T Ford.American Academy of Arts and Letters establishes the Howells Medal for Fiction;
WDH is the first recipient.
1916 Death of Henry James on February 28. The Leatherwood God (novel)
Years of My Youth (autobiography
to 1860)
Daughter of the Storage and Other Things in Prose and Verse 

The Book of the Homeless, ed. Edith Wharton (contributors:
Wharton, Edith; Brooke, Rupert; Conrad, Joseph; Galsworthy, John; Hardy,
Thomas; James, Henry; Howells, William Dean;Yeats, W. B.)
a Horse
1917 21 March. Hamlin Garland organizes a literary tribute dinner for Howells at the National Arts Club in New York in honor of Howells’s 80th birthday.
1919 Eighty Years and After
May 11.  In New York, Howells dies in his sleep of pneumonia and
is buried
in the Cambridge Cemetery
near Henry
The Vacation of the Kelwyns, an Idyl of the Middle Eighteen-Seventies
(published posthumously)

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