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The Rise of Silas Lapham

3.4 of 5 stars 3.40  ·  rating details  ·  2,322 ratings  ·  124 reviews
William Dean Howell's richly humerous characterization of a self-made millionaire in Boston society provides a paradigm of American culture in the Gilded Age.

After establishing a fortune in the paint business, Silas Lapham moves his family from their Vermont farm to the city of Boston, where they awkwardly attempt to break into Brahmin society.
Paperback, Penguin Classics, 400 pages
Published April 28th 1983 by Penguin (first published 1885)
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Boston Books
32nd out of 183 books — 182 voters
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis StevensonTreasure Island by Robert Louis StevensonA Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Best Books Of The Decade: 1880s
45th out of 176 books — 124 voters

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May 11, 2012 Werner rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mar 30, 2012 Shane rated it 1 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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.

EDIT: this book is also HILARIOUS. It’s hard to convince someone of this on the first read, but there’s a definite thread of manners comedy in here as well as the darker humor of a story of two families t
I had to read the first half of this story for an English class but something compelled me to finish it. I'm not sure why because I didn't really like many of the characters, particularly Mrs Corey, Nanny Corey, Milton Rogers, Persis Lapham, and Irene Lapham. Silas is a character I went back and forth on. The point is that throughout this story at least one character or another bothered me. Yet I kept reading. I guess I liked the fact that the Laphams' were well off by determination and hard wor ...more
Mark Zockoll
This my friends was a delightful read. Howells American Hero?? The executor of the true American dream? TOM COREY!
Marco Kaye
This novel twins the marriage plot with the rise and fall of a self-made paint magnate. Howell's was doing something ahead of his time, investigating and celebrating the American businessman. The story runs very dry at points. Howells is much better writing about Silas than the thin love triangle, with its extremely obvious complications, between Irene, Tom and Penelope.

I loved the opening pages. An interviewer comes to profile Silas, and it's a great and modern-feeling trick for Howell's to emp
Haven't been assigned too many novels to read during grad school, and oh, how I've missed them. The RISE OF SILAS LAPHAM was written in 1885 and set 10 years earlier in Boston. The book opens with a newspaper journalist interviewing the 50-something-year-old Silas Lapham in his private office trying to fit him into the rags-to-riches narrative, which he basically does but Lapham is somewhat irked to be reduced to a cliche. And yet, his paint industry did allow him to leave his Vermont farming pa ...more
This book, which might more accurately be entitled "The Fall of Silas Lapham", is set in late 19th Century Boston. Mr. Lapham is a self-made millionaire paint manufacturer, living with his wife and two marriage-eligible daughters in a reasonable house, and aspiring to a grander one. He is crude and rugged, and the family is not successful in mingling with Boston's moneyed elite. Mr. Howells explores the conflicts and stresses on the Lapham family as the son of one of Boston's First Families goe ...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
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
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
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
Oct 29, 2014 Alex marked it as to-read
the hell is this, I just saw it on the Wikipedia page for Literary realism and I've never even heard of it.
Todd Stockslager
Review title: Character over class: winning the class war in a classless society

Less well known than the classics of his contemporaries, Howells' Silas Lapham stands as strong,vital, and timeless as Twain's Gilded Age and Dickens' Our Mutual Friend In fact, in comparison to those other novels, Silas Lapham may be the more powerfully American (even than the immortal Twain) and purely moral (even than the inimitable Dickens).

Silas Lapham is a wealthy self-made man, still rough around the edges eve
Much of the moral reckoning here happened nigh on the conclusion, and so struck me as somewhat abrupt. The journalistic opening was another loose end; I expected more about Bartley Hubbard, especially since he was introduced “before his troubles with Marcia had seriously begun.” Otherwise, The Rise of Silas Lapham finds a curious – but effective, I think – balance between realism and something like humor. It seems to follow the advice of its own metacommentary (at every occasion of which, needle ...more
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
I have no desire to write anything nice or enlightened about this text. It was stupid and frustrating.
Less well known classic. Boring, predictable, incredibly meaningful.... stupid ending.
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
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required reading... 2 23 Oct 22, 2009 11:18AM  
  • The Marrow of Tradition
  • McTeague
  • The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories
  • Silas Marner and Two Short Stories (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)
  • The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson/Those Extraordinary Twins
  • Edgar Huntly or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker
  • The Awkward Age
  • The Damnation of Theron Ware: Or Illumination
  • Maggie: a Girl of the Streets: and Other Tales of New York
  • A New England Nun and Other Stories
  • The Rise of David Levinsky
  • Six Plays: Peer Gynt / A Doll's House / Ghosts / The Wild Duck / Hedda Gabler / The Master Builder
  • Selected Tales and Sketches
  • The Egoist
  • The Nether World
  • Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time
  • Dr. Wortle's School
  • The House of the Dead/Poor Folk
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...
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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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