Saturday, September 20, 2008

Howells and realism, Howells and Boston

From a review of Philip Roth's new novel, London Telegraph:

The great American realist William Dean Howells referred to the benefit of being faithful to "poor Real Life", the force attained from the pressure of its "vast, natural, unaffected dullness". Roth has dulled his style to this mimetic realism precisely in order to reveal the pressure of Fifties America: "the rectitude tyrannizing my life, the constricting rectitude" that afflicts Marcus.

From The Phoenix (Boston):

Going further back, novelist William Dean Howells, the "Dean of American Letters," was a hard-core Hub loyalist who once decreed, "The Bostonian who leaves Boston ought to be condemned to perpetual exile." He relocated to New York in 1891, and had one of his characters, making a similar move, liken Boston to a living death.

Of course, the irony is that Howells wound up not caring much for NYC, either, and spent a lot of time looking longingly back at Boston, as many who have followed in his footsteps do, and will continue to do indefinitely, or at least until rents get cheap enough to again tilt the balance away from our native reserve and standoffishness long enough for an arts scene to cohere, as it did in the '80s and early '90s in a big way.