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A Hazard of New Fortunes (March Family Trilogy #2)

3.22  ·  Rating Details  ·  552 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
A self-made millionaire and a social revolutionary are at odds with each other in a novel set against the background of a nineteenth-century New York streetcar strike.
Paperback, 572 pages
Published February 12th 2002 by Modern Library (first published 1890)
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In Dubious Battle by John SteinbeckGerminal by Émile ZolaThe Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckNorth and South by Elizabeth GaskellLysistrata by Aristophanes
Books about Strikes
12th out of 53 books — 25 voters
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What to read when you've finished Jane Austen
262nd out of 301 books — 532 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,029)
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Dec 10, 2014 Thomas rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-for-college
Another classic for my American lit class that did not sit well with me. The first 100-150 pages centers on a couple's apartment shopping in New York. The rest of the book perhaps delves into social commentary on capitalism and class structure and commercialism, but the sheer inundation of unnecessary detail made it difficult to wade through the moss to get to the meat of the story. Maybe A Hazard of New Fortunes deserves to have several academic essays and commentaries written about it, though ...more
Oct 13, 2010 Fionnuala rated it it was ok
Howells--or rather his books--haven't aged well. Despite attempts to show a panorama of New York life, his perspective is blinkered by middle class, middle range male values and experiences. And his writing is so fussy and over detailed I put this short book down feeling suffocated, headachey and desperate for something cleanly minimalist (Any suggestions?)

It's interesting to compare Howells with Henry James (contemporaries bracketed them together as the great social realists of their generatio
Feb 20, 2014 Kim rated it really liked it
A Hazard of New Fortunes is a novel by William Dean Howells first published in the U.S. by Harper & Bros. in 1890. It has been called one of the first major novels about New York City and many critics considered it his best novel.

I'd have to re-read a few to decide if I thought it was his "best" novel", but I did enjoy it. I was thoroughly entertained the entire time I was reading it. Because he portrays so many different characters from so many different backgrounds the novel has been call
Jul 22, 2012 Dusty rated it it was amazing
Loosely, A Hazard of New Fortunes is about the founding of a new literary periodical in late nineteenth-century New York City. The book begins with Basil March, a middle-aged insurance man in Boston who quits the company to pursue his old dream of a career in letters. March and his wife and children let a cluttered Manhattan apartment, and as they make their way in the bustling, alien metropolis, the author's scope opens and makes way for a legion of turn-of-the-century city types, amongst them ...more
Feb 23, 2011 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
This book was one of the most dense I have ever read. The complexities of the characters coupled with a story line rife with social commentary made it difficult, at times, to read. But, despite this, I found it to be enjoyable and at times very compelling.
It is important to note that this book was Howells's answer to the Haymarket Riots of Chicago in 1886. While Howells agreed with the striking workers, he did not agree with how they handled the affair. And how the workers were subsequently tre
The end is rather abrupt and doesn't quite work; there are aspects that were probably socially appropriate in 1890 that make us cringe today...which is of course to be expected in period literature. Still a rather engrossing urban novel, inhabited by often-archetypal but interesting characters. It is absolutely a study of the middle class, perhaps a bit too sunny and sentimental, though the echoes of the Haymarket Affair toward the end temper that a bit. Rather enjoyable. Probably an author that ...more
Sep 18, 2012 Rana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I give this novel 3 starts because I did, indeed, like it, but it was nothing more than that.

I can easily say that I respect this novel for being so untypical in two main points that stood out to me: 1. The central character is a city rather than a person and 2. Howells gives the people in the novel such distinct and refreshingly realistic views about the world and doesn't give our favorite characters romantic ideals that they claim to live by to please his readers.

Having New York be the central
Jun 23, 2007 joseph rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: EVERYONE!
perhaps it does not quite deserve the five star rating, but out of all the gilded age novels we read in my 'American Scene' class, this one was the most enjoyable. the march's are sympathetic middle class characters newly imported into a new york social scene of similarly bewildered (but not quite as bemused) young couples and their children. dryfoos was an ohio farmer made rich by an oil boom, who comes to the city and becomes a fearsome capitalist (and sponsor of march's new literary venture) ...more
Sep 27, 2008 Don rated it really liked it
Written in 1890, this is generally regarded as one of the best, if not the best, portrayals of middle class life in New York City in the late 19th Century.

What I found most interesting about this novel is Howells' principal female character; they seem quite modern to me. Isabel March is both fully supportive of her husband, and at the same time clearly his intellectual equal and influential in the decisions he makes. Although they clearly love and respect each other, the relationship is not port
Feb 12, 2014 Dan rated it really liked it
I read this novel for an English class. We really focused on the social context of this story. After doing a lot of reading on the ideas of the time I really focused on the struggle of man, and the influences of different social and economical drivers. Different characters offered opposing perspectives regarding the struggles associated with capitalism. Taking into account 19th/20th century ideas on evolution, government, social class, race, religion, and economics. I liked it.
Nov 30, 2013 Rose rated it really liked it
This novel could be the American retort to Vanity Fair and Howells our Thackery. Like Thackery, he's a skilled ironist who creates a broad social canvass out of a small collection of characters who define an era. Unlike Thackery, Howells is aware of the existence of a working class as something other than the pit you fall into when you make the wrong -- the unvirtuous -- life choices. Howells is also able to give a surprising amount of agency to a new sort of woman, one with skills and talents o ...more
Richard Epstein
Critics are perpetually explaining that Howells is underrated and under read. He was a friend of Mark Twain, Henry James, and Henry Adams, all of whom admired his writing. But it never seems to make any difference. I think Alfred Kazin explained it best, ‘Howells had missed something, and he knew it as well as the generations after him were to know it . . . He had spoken in all the accents of greatness without ever being great himself.’ That's a little fuzzy, I know, but it's true.
Jun 19, 2012 Sandro rated it did not like it
I actually didn't even finish this book. It was too painful to get through. The moment of despair came when, in the beginning of the novel, the couple began looking for an appartment in New York, which went on for about 50 dreadfully boring and nearly unbearable pages. The characters annoyed me to no end and the story itself was, in my opinion, presented in a very boring and unappealing way, with dialogues that felt as if each character had an infinite amount of monologue and a plot that seemed ...more
Jun 06, 2016 Humphrey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This deserves the shortlist for best American novel. Its scope is daring; its prose is masterful; its innovations in form and plot are provoking; its message for the reader is both critical and hopeful. At its core, Howells' novel explores the relation of parts and wholes. What is the place of regions in the American nation? Is multiculturalism a sum of its cultural parts, or does it form its own new cohesive part, incapable of actually embracing the whole? What must be sacrificed to transmit (o ...more
Oct 16, 2010 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
This is more or less a decent Americanization of a Trollope novel (though I'd hazard--har har--to say Howells is more heavy-handed in his social critique and not as subtle or, well, good a writer as Trollope). Inspires nostalgia, sometimes laughter, and a great deal of investment in the characters, who come to feel more like friends than fiction. I effing hated the German dude, though--plus, Howells wrote out his accent as if he were Polish or Russian & not at all German. Also his idea of th ...more
I read this book (sometimes more like skimmed it) as research for a book I am writing which takes place in the same era and city. The research info was valuable, but I have to say the writing was clunky and the characters not terribly compelling. I think Howells had his eye very firmly set on social issues rather than people, which is why the novel has a heavy handed let-me-tell-you-about-social-issues-and-use-characters-to-illustrate-it feel. When you compare it to other contemporaneous (is tha ...more
Jul 15, 2016 Jane marked it as to-read
I read this probably in the 1970's and wish to re-read it. I know the writing was very fine.
Aug 15, 2010 Erika rated it liked it
A Hazard of New Fortunes is fascinating and vivid portrait of American character in its various aspects from a late nineteenth century perspective. Many of the observations remain potent even today--120 years after publication. I hate to qualify my rating, though I will say that it is better than three stars. My hesitation to rate it higher is more of a gut feeling. I found the book stimulating, well-drawn, and full of perceptive social commentary, but I didn't find myself to be particularly eng ...more
Lukas Evan
Originally titled "Danger! Danger! New Fortunes!"
Feb 22, 2012 Tessa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic
This book managed a 2.5. The first half was dead boring except for the one chapter with Lindau. Howells had his characters spend 6 chapters looking for an apartment! Really? Things didn't pick up until past the middle of the book when he finally delved into the social issues (capitalism, millionaires vs the poor, strikes, slavery) in earnest.
Apr 25, 2012 Heleen rated it liked it
I really enjoyed how well-developed & round the characters were. For me, the psychology was the main attraction of this book. The social and political dimension of it was of less interest to me, but I can imagine how it is conceived as an intricate and accurate depiction of New York life at the end of the 19th century.
Jan 21, 2009 Margo rated it it was ok
This book was the epitome of realism and very long. Although I appreciate it for the genre and the aspects of realism which are fascinating, I would definitely not recommend it to someone and would never have read it it not for it being assigned in my Amercan lit class.
Peter Wolfley
Sep 14, 2012 Peter Wolfley rated it liked it
The book is almost completely driven by dialogue. At times it just feels like one long conversation. The characters are complex and it's tough to draw out any strong, singular meaning. It felt like Howells was trying to make a dozen different points at the same time.
Victor Claar
Aug 05, 2009 Victor Claar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Published five years after the Rise of Silas Lapham, a Hazard of New Fortunes is perhaps the author's better book. Between the two, Howells positions himself as the first full-length novelist of American life, if not the first great American novelist!
Nov 19, 2011 Frans rated it liked it
Although the narrator manages to remain very absent, the complete lack of action on what could be called the main character makes you want to shake him up. He's a lot like the narrator in that way: always aloof and watching what happens from afar.
Edward Weiner
Sep 09, 2015 Edward Weiner rated it it was amazing
Listened to a free audio recording from Librivox. Written in 1890, it describes life in New York City. Howells was Mark Twain's publisher. If you like Henry James and Edith Wharton, you might like this.
Jim O'Loughlin
Oct 03, 2009 Jim O'Loughlin rated it really liked it
Okay, it's too long and there's a reason why Howells became a whipping boy of the modernists, but this book still really captures a moment and cross section of late 19th C America.
Apr 02, 2008 melvinhiddenelder rated it liked it
Shelves: classics
Though not as well known as The Rise of Silas Lapham, this book does depict 19th C. NYC in you typical realist fashion. It is not as brutal as Zola can be, it is an entertaining read.
Jason Williams
Aug 12, 2013 Jason Williams rated it really liked it
Shelves: 19th-century-us
Who knew fortunes could be so hazardous!? A compelling story of urbanization, opportunity, and opportunism in turn-of-the-century New York City.
Mar 27, 2007 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Actually, 2 1/2 - see, I don't LOVE all 19th century literature. This one was written in 1890 and it is just too darn boring.
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Willam Dean Howells was a novelist, short story writer, magazine editor, and mentor who wrote for various magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and Harper's Magazine.

In January 1866 James Fields offered him the assistant editor role at the Atlantic Monthly. Howells accepted after successfully negotiating for a higher salary, but was frustrated by Fields's close supervision. Howells was made e
More about William Dean Howells...

Other Books in the Series

March Family Trilogy (3 books)
  • Their Wedding Journey
  • Their Silver Wedding Journey

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“New York may be splendidly gay or squalidly gay but prince or pauper, it's gay always...Yes, gay is the word...but frantic. I can't get used to it. They forget death, Basil; they forget death in New York.” 1 likes
“It's the whole country that makes or breaks a thing like this. New York has very little to do with it. Now if it were a play, it would be different. New York does make or break a play; but it doesn't make or break a book; it doesn't make or break a magazine. The great mass of the readers are outside of New York and the rural districts are what we have got to go for. They don't read much in New York; they write and talk about what they've written. Don't you worry.” 1 likes
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