The Rise of Silas Lapham (A Norton critical edition)
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The Rise of Silas Lapham (A Norton critical edition)

3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  1,888 ratings  ·  108 reviews
A greedy, unscrupulous man loses his business and lover. In his humility he begins to think of others and makes not a material, but spiritual and ethical rise. This is a book of tragicomedy, romanticism, realism, society and art, as well as a study of American culture.
Hardcover, 519 pages
Published January 1st 1982 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1885)
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Werner
May 11, 2012 Werner rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Fans of serious literature
Shelves: classics, books-i-own
Recently, I was looking over some of my old notes on classics that I've read; that list isn't as long as I'd like, but it was also startling to note how few of the books on it I've actually reviewed on Goodreads. I try to make time to do a book review roughly every week, and if I'm not reviewing a book I've just finished, I take the opportunity to review one that I've already read; but those number in the hundreds, and the choice of which one to review is often rather random. So I've decided, fo...more
Jerry
I didn't read much beyond the first half of this book. The more I read it, the less interesting it became to me. I'm sure that the book has merit, but I read for two primary reasons; to be entertained by reading books that are worthwhile and interesting, and to better myself in a way that expands my appreciation for literature. Having said that, though, I find it very difficult to read a boring book just because it is supposed to be good for me to read it. Silas Lapham just didn't catch my inter...more
Elizabeth
Various elements of this novel made me want to compare it with a variety of other much-loved authors (or mine and others). The titular character contains elements of Fitzgerald's Gatsby, the trenchant social critique recalls Wharton, the plot (particularly the marriage plot) could have been taken right out of the pages of Jane Austen. And, despite these (worthy) comparisons, this novel is also all its own: its a realistic yet also somewhat satirical look at the rise of America's nouveau riche at...more
Rachel
Silas Lapham is a self-made millionaire in the paint business, rich but lacking the social status that comes with inherited wealth. After his wife and daughters do a favor for the better-placed Corey family, the family scion Tom Corey begins to work for Lapham and also to call on the family regularly, presumably to court the prettier daughter Irene. Silas and his wife Persis become socially ambitious, not entirely on their on behalf, but more to ensure the future of their daughters, symbolized b...more
Helynne
This is one of our most unappreciated gems of 19th-century American literature, I believe, since I rarely hear of it, and read it myself only as an assignment in a literature class. The novel, which is considered a classic in American realism, could also be entitled The Rise and Fall and Subsequent Rising Again of Silas Lapham because of the materialistic and moral lessons of the title character. Lapham is a simple man, who undergoes the classic rages-to-riches story by way of the development o...more
Margaretmcmillan
This is a fabulous book, and it made me proud to be an American (no really!). It's a little slow in the middle, but persevere and you will be rewarded.

For a guy who said that novels were wicked, William Dean Howells sure did write a lot of novels. I've been told that his corpus is a very moral one, and there's very little innuendo in any of his novels. I'm reading "Sister Carrie" right now, and let me tell you, there's certainly not any prostitution in "Silas Lapham." Neither is there binge dri...more
David Lentz
This is a good American novel which is well shy of greatness because the author's characters read with a few exceptions more like simple archetypes of the American Dream. The novel concerns the eponymous Silas who has discovered a paint mine and brought his high quality paint to market. His business success generates sufficient revenues to merit the construction of a new home on the water side of Beacon Street in the Back Bay of Boston. There he meets the archetypal Brahmin family, the Coreys, w...more
Shane
Mar 30, 2012 Shane rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Nobody
Oh, the books I've read. This is by far the worst of them. The first forever of pages talks about nothing but paint and the Lapham family paint factory. The rest of the novel is nothing more than a poorly played out soap opera. The characters all seem shallow and despite the hard times that come about in the book - it never seems in touch with the hard times the rest of America was dealing with at the time. I don't have time to shed tears for the wealthy men (self-made or not) who mismanaged the...more
Tim
Going into this book I had been lead to expect a forgotten masterpiece of American literature and for at least the first third or so it was living up to my expectations. Ultimately, however, I think it fails in a couple of ways. A couple of narrative elements are dragged on for too long, specifically the romance plot and the business stuff. More importantly, by setting the titular character up as a representative of the new class of self made rich men and then having him make choices for moral r...more
Carol
Another book I read as a result of my recent interest in the lesser-known authors and novels of the ninetheenth century, Silas Lapham was pretty good. Part tragedy, part comedy of manners, it gave me a good look at the late nineteenth century clash between old money and new money. The comedy part comes in with the irony that Silas Lapham views his honest earning of a fortune through commercial enterprise as a sign of his social worthiness, while the old money upper class society views that same...more
Jim Leckband
The more accurate title would be "The Rise and Then Somewhat Depressing Train Wreck That Could Be Seen For 200 Pages of Silas Lapham".

Silas Lapham is a self-made millionaire from the very wrong side of the tracks who doesn't know what to do with his money. His only passion is his paint and his morality. Oh...his morality. Do we ever read about his morality. Apparently, early on he bought out his partner who brought capital to his business. The partner wasn't helping the business and didn't have...more
Michelle
I was pleasantly surprised by this rags-to-riches-to rags closeup of "nouveau riche meets bluebloods" story. Why had I never heard of Howells before? I'll be looking up more. I heard him referred to in a book as "The American Dickens" but he reminds me more of Wharton, just he is kinder to his characters. None of them were perfect or romanticized but all were sympathetic and I enjoyed reading about what happened to them. Howells' comments on novels were amusing. I'll definitely be looking up mor...more
Stephen
Not exactly sure why I picked up this book at library used-book sale and I sat around for a year or more before I picked it up. Overall, I liked the story: rags-Vermont to riches-Boston to rags-Vermont. I live in Vermont and there was a description of Silas's physical appearance that made me fall our of bed when I read it. SO TRUE. There are a lot of poor people in Vermont, who look exactly as Silas is described.

I felt the book was long-winded at times. However one whole chapter was dedicated to...more
Andrew
Does anyone read William Dean Howells anymore? He was a literary giant in his own time, a pioneer of the American social novel, and a clear influence on Dreiser and Tarkington (OK, two authors that I also feel no one reads anymore, save English teachers). And Silas Lapham is a story of the ultimate hollowness of the American dream and the desperation that defines the business mindset, written some 70 years before folks like Arthur Miller and Jack Kerouac turned criticism of the American bourgeoi...more
Evan
This book is worth reading simply because of the structure -- it is perfectly symmetrical. there is an epiphany at the exact center and the opening and closing chapters are two different confessions -- one public, one private. It's an amazing work, though most people don't read it at this point.
Joe
Old rich/new rich. Can they get along?

Howells is a master craftsman. He makes you care about the characters enough that you can't wait to see what happens to them next.

This is a slow go, and the social mores are smothering.

A great deal of this story is dreary and depressing; however, that's all necessary when, in the end, the players reevaluate each other based on the qualities of character under the surfaces.

Reading level: Challenging.

"Penelope was as nearly crazed as might be by the compli...more
Mark Zockoll
This my friends was a delightful read. Howells American Hero?? The executor of the true American dream? TOM COREY!
Lindsay
I have no desire to write anything nice or enlightened about this text. It was stupid and frustrating.
Jacob
Less well known classic. Boring, predictable, incredibly meaningful.... stupid ending.
Stephen
The edition that I picked up, contains a 22 page introduction by Kermit Vanderbilt. From the introduction, I was led to believe that The Rise of Silas Lapham was a highly scholastic piece of American literature, and by the time I was through with the intro, was eager to get on with it.

The storyline was a little blasé to me, and reminded me of another great American work, Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, which seemed to be of a similar genre though written decades later - Howells is considered a pr...more
Olivia
The shift between two plots (marriage and business) display the movement in national attention away from Boston and old norms. The cultural upheaval illustrated by a stagnation occurring between the old (Beacon Hill) and new (Back Bay) to the ignorance in outside cultural changes occurring in NYC/West. Considering the motivation of realism, the novel holds the ability to critique both types of upper class life. I cringed often in the second half of the book due to the extreme unrealistic turmoil...more
Gale
The Morality of an American Entrepreneur

William Dean Howell's tenth novel chronicles the life--family, business, and social--of Silas Lapham, formerly a colonel in the Civil War. Readers learn much expository information about his Rise to wealth and business success in the first chapter, in which a highhanded Boston reporter embellishes the protagonist's blunt and boastful account of his reinvented lifestyle. Set in the late 19th century this deeply psychological novel presents the enigma of a m...more
David Spencer
The book starts off a little slow, but that is just laying the foundation for a very dramatic and tense book. There are some really great overarching themes and some very deep critical theory surrounding this book if you can get a hold of some. I really enjoyed the final two-thirds of the novel and the dinner party scene in the middle of the book is one of the most compelling and well-written scenes I've seen in any book. If you are not liking the story by the time you get to this central point...more
Rachel M.
*Note: This book really has a 3.5 star rating!!!

This novel is the epitome of American realism because of its focus on common, everyday life, and its commentary on the dangers of romanticism. The book focuses on the tension between "new money" and "old money" and describes the distinction between the two classes by detailing the lives of the Laphams and the Bromfields, respectively. The "new money" spent money lavishly to show that they were wealthy, and they were proud of the fact that they had...more
Joe
When I picked “Lapham” off the shelf in a used bookstore I was under the impression that I was getting a robber baron story about a fictional Morgan or Frick rather than the story of a self-made man who oversees a thriving business as opposed to an empire. I was surprised, but not disappointed, by the difference, and ultimately pleased; Lapham finds his success (in the paint business) just after the Civil War, a touch that I found distinctive and historically interesting. Lapham is a Union veter...more
Damen
I enjoyed the look back at the clash of "old" and "new" money during the most turbulent days of the Industrial Revolution. But I was confused as to Howell's intentions once I reached the end of the story. If it is a cautionary tale, then the take-away was to never attempt a class climb. If a comedy of manners, then it was merely the various characters blindnesss to their own apparently immutable caste. Neither of these seem enough of a purpose to support such a long story. The story simply descr...more
Dusty
The Signet Classics edition of Silas Lapham is preceded by what may be the worst introduction to an important novel that I've ever read. Louis Auchingloss says although William Dean Howells was commonly read a hundred years ago, these days only a couple of his novels draw any attention. He implies this isn't really a surprise, and anyway the book's entwined business and marriage plots are rather tiresome. If I were looking for a book to read for pleasure rather than one I had to read for graduat...more
joseph
a comic-serious portrayal of another country bumpkin turned city capitalist (this one is a little more searching and sympathetic than dryfoos) the majority of the story involves the melodramatic courtship of the novel's younger characters. guess he had to sell books or something. the romances of young mr. corey and penelope and irene prove dull and distracting, but i don't doubt that that was the standard fare of the time. howells portrayal of lapham proves a little belittling and patronizing at...more
Rob
Every era is filled with novels that are good but not great, that embody their time more than they change it, and end up resting in semi-obscurity. This is one of those novels. Silas Lapham starts out as a semi-satirical portrait of a rising businessman, one of America's "new rich", takes a left turn into Victorian romance, before coming to a strong final third that shows an admirable refusal to pull punches.

Stylistically, Howells is a lot more accessible to modern audiences than most of his con...more
Steven
This critical edition is quite good because of all the contemporary responses, critical essays, and Howells’ correspondence. It really puts the novel, and how and why Howells created it, in context. For some reason it occurred to me that it might be fruitful to compare this novel with Ford’s The Sportswriter, you know, compare Frank Bascombe with Silas Lapham. Compare realists at the end of the 19th and 20th centuries; sounds like a critical essay in the making. The intertext with Middlemarch wa...more
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required reading... 2 21 Oct 22, 2009 11:18AM  
  • McTeague
  • Maggie: A Girl of the Streets: and Other Tales of New York
  • The Damnation of Theron Ware: Or Illumination
  • The Marrow of Tradition
  • The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson/Those Extraordinary Twins
  • The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories
  • Great American Short Stories: From Hawthorne to Hemingway
  • The Egoist
  • Edgar Huntly or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker
  • Sybil, or the Two Nations
  • Hope Leslie: or, Early Times in the Massachusetts
  • The House of the Dead/Poor Folk
  • The Princess Casamassima
  • Jennie Gerhardt
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  • Selected Tales and Sketches
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  • Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time
90553
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
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“If he was not commonplace, it was through nothing remarkable in his mind, which was simply clear and practical, but through some combination of qualities of the heart that made men trust him, and women call him sweet--a word of theirs which conveys otherwise indefinable excellences.” 4 likes
“Those novels with old-fashioned heroes and heroines in them -- are ruinous!” 3 likes
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