Howells in the News: Richard White on Howells at the OUP Blog

Abraham Lincoln, the politician whose memory and legacy dominated the Gilded Age, died as this book begins, but he never really vanished. The novelist and critic William Dean Howells captured part of the reason when he reviewed John Hay’s and John Nicolay’s monumental biography of the president in 1890. Howells wrote that “if America means anything at all, it means the sufficiency of the common, the insufficiency of the uncommon.” Lincoln had come to be both the personification of the American common people and the nation’s greatest—and most uncommon—president. Howells thought it was the nation’s common people and common traits that most mattered.

Howells, famous then and largely forgotten since, knew most everyone, but he always remained detached. He watched, and he wrote. His interventions in politics remained minor. Howells was a Midwesterner, and this was the great age of the Midwest. Originally a committed liberal, he came to acknowledge liberalism’s failures and insufficiencies, and then struggled to imagine alternatives. He did so as a writer, and he and his fellow Realists created invaluable portraits of the age. In his confusion, his intelligence, and his honesty, he reminds us that for those living through the Gilded Age it was an astonishing and frightening period, full of great hopes as well as deep fears. When Howells cryptically embraces the common, it is worth listening to him. Understanding his judgment of the “sufficiency of the common, the insufficiency of the uncommon” provides a lens for assessing the Gilded Age.

“W. D. Howells” by Underwood & Underwood, featured in The North American review. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Public lecture by Daniel Mrozowski June 15 at the Mark Twain House: “My Dear Howells:” The Literary Friendship of Samuel Clemens and William Dean Howells

From Paul Petrie:

The Trouble Begins at 5:30

This Thursday, June 15

5:00 Reception, 5:30 Lecture

“My Dear Howells:” The Literary Friendship of Samuel Clemens and William Dean Howells

Lecture by Daniel Mrozowski

The personal and professional relationship between Mark Twain and William Dean Howells was one of the most important in American letters. Howells was a significant literary gatekeeper as editor of the Atlantic Monthly and a major novelist in his own right. Understanding their relationship illuminates the culture, business, and ideas that animated post-Civil War American literature.

Daniel Mrozowski is a visiting lecturer in English at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. Dr. Mrozowski is the president of the William Dean Howells Society of America, a scholarly organization dedicated to the study of the 19th-century editor, author, and critic that sponsors regular panels at the annual American Literature Association convention.  Dr. Mrozowski’s research and writing focuses on 19th-century American literature and its intersection with business history. He is working on a book about the rise of the corporation and its influence on American fiction during the Gilded Age.

The Trouble Begins at 5:30 Lecture Series is sponsored by Connecticut Humanities.

This event is presented at no cost but reservations are highly suggested.

Call 860-247-0998 or to reserve tickets click here.

Other Fun Stuff Coming Soon:



Saturday, June 17, 5 to 6:30 p.m.

International Wine Tasting Sponsored by Friends of The Mark Twain House & Museum 


Taste wines from Italy, Spain, Australia, Argentina, and America accompanied by a selection of savory appetizers & decadent desserts.

Music provided by Rob McCrann.

All proceeds benefit The Mark Twain House & Museum.


Pond House Café            *          Whole Foods         *       Taylor Rental

Wines from Frederick Wildman & Sons, LTD: Wine Enthusiast Importer of the Year Award 2016:          

El Coto Blanco, Rioja, Spain

El Coto Crianza, Rioja, Spain                                                                              

Melini Chianti Riserva DOC, Tuscany, Italy

Hewitson Sauvignon Blanc, Adelaide, Australia    

Cavicchioli 1928 Prosecco, Veneto, Italy

La Linda Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina

Wines from Allan S. Goodman, Inc.:                      

Chateau Ste Michelle Chardonnay, WA

Motto Zinfandel, California

Questions: or 617-905-1912

Tickets are $35;  advance purchase by JUNE 15 required. No tickets will be sold at the door.

To purchase tickets click here. Deadline: June 15, 2017!



Saturday, June 17, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Day-Long Writing Workshop: Using Our Voice for Others with Susanne Davis


Howells Society Panels at ALA 2017 (Boston)

Thursday, May 25

Session 1-J 9:00-10:20

On the Neglected Works of William Dean Howells (Helilcon, 7th Floor)

Organized by the William Dean Howells Society

Chair: Andrew Ball, Lindenwood University

1. “Howells’s Critical Poetic Engagement with Race and Lynching,” Patricia Chaudron, University at Buffalo

2. “‘The slow martyrdom of her sickness malady’: William Dean Howells’ ‘Sketch of Winnie’s Life’,” Lindsey Grubbs, Emory University

3. “Howells’s The Whole Family: A Collaborative Failure?,” Gregory J. Stratman, American Public University

Session 2-F, 10:30-11:50

Howells on Race and Class in the Gilded Age (Essex North Center, 3rd Floor)

Organized by the William Dean Howells Society

Chair: Andrew Ball, Lindenwood University

1. “A Farce and Failure of a Novel: Farcical Realism in William Dean Howells’s An Imperative Duty,” Lisa McGunigal, The Pennsylvania State University

2. “An Imperative Duty and the Idea of Race in the Late 19th Century,” Naoko Sugiyama, Japan Women’s University

3. “Marble Halls and Tenement Houses: Proxemics between the Middle Class and Working Class During the Gilded Age,” Kirsten Clemens, Appalachian State University

4. “An Innocent Abroad: Mr. Homos, the Altrurian Traveler,” M.M. Dawley, Boston University

Session 3-L 12:00 – 1:20 pm

Business Meeting: William Dean Howells Society (Essex Center, 3rd Floor)

CFP: Howells Panels at ALA 2017

The William Dean Howells Society welcomes submissions for two panels at the 28th Annual American Literature Association Conference to be held in Boston, May 25-28, 2017.

Panel 1: On the Neglected Works of William Dean Howells

Though “the Dean of American letters” is acknowledged as a key figure in the history of American literature, critics have primarily focused on a small number of well-known works such as The Rise of Silas Lapham and A Haz- ard of New Fortunes. For this panel, we invite proposals for presentations that examine texts from Howells’s extensive body of work that have re- mained largely neglected, or those devoted to topics that have received less

attention. Potential topics could include but are not limited to:

  •   Howells’s late poetry
  •   Howells’s YA literature for children and adolescents
  •   Howells’s drama – his plays, farces, and sundry theatrical works
  •   Howells’s creative nonfiction
  •   Howells’s travel writing
  •   Howells’s journalism – from his political journalism to his criticism and editorial work
  •   Howells and the beneficiaries of his mentorship and critical praise

    such as, Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charles Chesnutt, Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, and Frank Norris among many others

  •   Howells and his contemporaries, such as James and Twain
  •   Howells as tastemaker – as combatant in the “Realism War” or pro-

    moter of European authors

  •   Howells and Modernism
  •   Howells and regionalism

    Panel 2: Open Topic

    For this session, we invite proposals for presentations concerned with any aspect of Howells’s life and work.

    Please submit 300-500 word abstracts to Andrew Ball (aball @ linden- by January 15. The subject of the email should be “Howells ALA 2017” and the proposal should include any A/V needs you will require.

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

*** Update 10/28/16

Thanks to  Gary Culbert, who suggests here  that this is likely not Howells’s handwriting.

I’d have to agree. Here’s a sample of Howells’s handwriting for comparison: howellssample

Thanks for the query and the reply! –Donna Campbell