Category Archives: Queries

Queries: Unrecorded Howells manuscript?

howells4From a comment posted at If you have suggestions, post them in the comments here or on howells-l. Thanks!



I am representing a client who has what may be an unrecorded William Dean Howells manuscript and I am looking for assistance in possibly identifying it. (I also am not an expert in Howells’s handwriting, so it is, of course, very possible that it is not the work of Howells.)

The manuscript seems to be the first three chapters (totaling 109 manuscript pages and three manuscript slips) of a novel, written across the pages of a salesman’s dummy of Grant’s Memoirs.

The handwriting is easy to read: the story begins in the middle of the subscription list (about two-thirds of the way into the salesman’s dummy) with possible epigraphs and a character list with the characters’ ages preceding the text. It then continues at the beginning of the book until re-connecting with the opening lines.

I’ve read the story (and enjoyed it!). It involves an aspiring writer, Ralph Estabrook who falls in love with a poor young girl (Nancy “Nan” Valcour, who is fifteen when they meet), but then marries an older heiress, Miss Charlotte Thursby.

Ten years pass, Estabrook (who is now successful as a speaker and writer) and his wife have been separated for five years; Nan Valcour has come into an unexpected inheritance and become a famous singer. The two meet again, they declare their love for each other, but Valcour will not marry Estabrook because he is, although separated from his wife, still married. Even if he can get a divorce, she will not accept him because he will still be married “in God’s eyes”.

The setting is a small coastal village, with the Valcour’s house situated on an island (“Clam Island”). There are resemblances to Cape Cod, with even a reference to Cape Cod at one point.

Does this sound at all familiar to anyone?

If it is Howells, my guess is that he picked up a used salesman’s dummy (the subscriptions seem to have been filled) lying around at Charles Webster’s and just began writing.

If there are any Howells handwriting experts who could help (I have images of all the pages I could forward) – or if this story sounds familiar to anyone – I would love to hear from you.

Michael DiRuggiero
Owner, The Manhattan Rare Book Company

Howells Queries: “Eighty Years and After” and “On a Bright Winter’s Day”

This is a Query: I was rereading the book “The Last Harvest” by John Burroughs (1922). In his last essays, there is mentioned of Howell’s “Eighty Years and After” and a poem “On a Bright Winter’s Day.” I am looking for what publication or website may have these works available to read. Thank you for any assistance.

Sincerely, Peter Laurent / Vallejo, California

Howells Queries: Stagecoach metaphor for bureaucracy

I am frantically looking for the name of the article, story, book that WD Howells wrote on bureauracracy that WD Howells wrote. It was about a coach or stagecoach on which people kept climbing on and falling off and everyone was trying to get to the top of the coach. This influenced my conceptions strongly and I would like to pass it on to others but have forgotten the name.


Howells Queries: Who was the “single guest” who laughed at the Whittier Birthday DInner Speech?

Dear William Dean Howells Society:

I am writing about John Greenleaf Whittier’s 70th birthday party, at which Mr. Howells was the toastmaster, and at which Samuel Clemens gave his controversial speech.

In Mr. Howells’ account of that speech, he says that the silence “…deepened from moment to moment, and was broken only by the hysterical and blood-curdling laughter of a single guest, whose name shall not be handed down to infamy.”

My question is, is it known, now, who that guest was? I’m wondering if it showed up in any of his correspondence or personal notes.


Stephen Sakellarios

[leave suggestions in the comments]

New Queries: Howells and Dostoevsky; Howells and H.M. Pollard

I am researching an 1890s political scandal in which Madeline Pollard sued a congressman for breach of promise. She claims a close friendship with Howells, which I am attempting to document. She claimed to have visited Howells in Boston and Cambridge ca. 1887 – 1892 and received written literary advice from him. The Breach of Promise suit [Pollard v. Breckinridge] was tried in 1893-1894 and I am curious as to if he made any comments regarding it to his associates. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Can anyone point me to archives/collections with material in the relevant time frame [1887 – 1894]?

Thank you,

Dr. Elizabeth De Wolfe

Professor of History, University of New England


In the 1880s and 18890s — and beyond?  — Howells read and commented on the Russians that were getting translated into English. Can you give me data in general — and Howells’ references to Dostoyevsky in particular?

Thanks. Dorothy Richardson