Thursday, December 08, 2005

Howells Rediscovered

Howells Rediscovered

A collection of articles by and about The Atlantic's third editor, William Dean Howells, celebrates his contributions to the magazine and American literature.


O f all the men of letters who took the helm at The Atlantic Monthly in its first fifty years, perhaps its most prolific and well-known was William Dean Howells—at least in his day. In our time, however, Howells is relatively unknown, especially when compared with the writers he helped bring to national prominence—Mark Twain and Henry James, among others. But a new Howells biography by Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson, published this year, has returned this author of some forty novels to the literary spotlight. In light of the renewed interest in Howells and in honor of The Atlantic's upcoming 150th anniversary, we've collected a few written portraits of the editor along with some of Howells's writing from the magazine.

When Howells arrived in Boston for the first time in 1860, as a twenty-three-year-old self-educated journalist from very unliterary Ohio, he would hardly have seemed a likely heir to The Atlantic's editorship. Boston was the epicenter of the literary culture Howells revered and hoped to join, and home to some of his favorite authors—Emerson, Hawthorne, and Longfellow. Several of Howells's poems had been published in The Atlantic by its editor James Russell Lowell, who saw Howells as a western writer with significant promise. Howells visited Lowell at his home in Cambridge soon after reaching Boston. In "First Encounters: William Dean Howells and the Brahmins," Nancy Caldwell Sorel describes that afternoon meeting, in which Lowell took Howells under his wing. Howells was invited to dinner at the Parker House that night, where he met two of the magazine's other leading figures—Oliver Wendell Holmes, a physician, writer, and frequent contributor, and James T. Fields, the publisher. Howells later recalled in a letter to his father, "Lowell and Holmes both seemed to take me by the hands, and the Autocrat [Holmes], about the time the coffee came in, began to talk about the apostolic succession."
[The rest is available only to subscribers]