Wednesday, November 01, 2006

W. D. Howells and Stephen King

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Twain's novels started the flowering of an American literature that was democratic, read by all. His closest friend and fellow novelist was William Dean Howells, born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, also the home of poet James Wright (and baseball's Niekro brothers -- what a town!).

Howells was once one of the country's most popular writers, whose books took on the social conventions of the times. His contemporaries, Henry James and Edith Wharton, sold far fewer books, yet nobody reads Howells today while James and Wharton are required for students of American literature.

That fact confirms King's argument but also speaks to the nature of James and Wharton that goes beyond their reputation among academics. Their work endures because of its universal quality -- their language crosses the years while Howells' books remain stuck in the 19th century.

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