"A Modern Instance" is a novel written by William D. Howells. The novel was serialized in Century Magazine in eleven installments between December 1881 and October 1882; it was published in book form in Boston by James R. Osgood and Company in October 1882. Howells got the idea for the novel after he saw a performance of "Medea" in Boston in 1875. When he witnessed on the stage the recreation of Medea's love for Jason, her husband who betrays her, and how her love changes to hatred, as Howells h"A Modern Instance" is a novel written by William D. Howells. The novel was serialized in Century Magazine in eleven installments between December 1881 and October 1882; it was published in book form in Boston by James R. Osgood and Company in October 1882. Howells got the idea for the novel after he saw a performance of "Medea" in Boston in 1875. When he witnessed on the stage the recreation of Medea's love for Jason, her husband who betrays her, and how her love changes to hatred, as Howells himself said, "the novel was born." Up until the time of publication Howells continued to refer to his work in progress as The New Medea. Howells considered "A Modern Instance"his finest novel.
The novel begins in the village of Equity, Maine. A village where:
" winter was full half the year. The snow began at Thanksgiving, and fell snow upon snow till Fast Day, thawing between the storms, and packing harder and harder against the break-up in the spring, when it covered the ground in solid levels three feet high, and lay heaped in drifts, that defied the sun far into May."
The villagers are called "captives of winter"and watch out their windows where "every movement on the street was precious to them."In this first page the "movement" happens to be our hero and heroine Bartley Hubbard and Marcia Gaylord going down the street in a cutter, "gay with red-lined robes". Bartley takes Marcia to the church socialble, and he brings her back to her father's house in the "moonlight silence." We are told about Marcia that:
"her beauty was of the kind that coming years would only ripen and enrich; at thirty she would be even handsomer than at twenty..."
Marcia is the daughter of Squire and Mrs. Gaylord. The Squire is the town lawyer and his wife seldom went out of her own door. Marcia is the apple of her father's eye and he has spoiled her.
Bartley is the editor of the Equity Free Press. Bartley's life had been quite different from Marcia's life. He was an orphan, dependent on his own exertions for a livelihood, he had entered college with difficulty, and with heavy conditions. We are told that:
" The fact of his smartness had been affirmed and established in the strongest manner by the authorities of the college at which he was graduated..." however; "One, indeed, still felt it a duty to call attention to the fact that the college authorities said nothing of the young man's moral characteristics in a letter dwelling so largely upon his intellectual qualifications."
This is one early clue as to Bartley's true character.
It is quickly obvious that Marcia is madly in love (or thinks she is) with Bartley, and Bartley is definitely not in love with Marcia, although he is fond of her. He seems to be fond of women in general though, and Marcia is extremely jealous of them all. Bartley's feelings towards Marcia are given here;
"Bartley was still free as air; but if he could once make up his mind to settle down in a hole like Equity, he could have her by turning his hand."
Although it seems to me that this relationship can go absolutely no where, Marcia and Bartley do become engaged at which time "The house seemed too little for Marcia's happiness."However, almost immediately something goes wrong when Bartley and his assistant have a fight over one of the office girls, Hannah Morrison, and Bartley's assistant is seriously injured. Marcia when she finds out breaks the engagement, not because of his violence, but because of Hannah. Because of this Bartley is asked to leave the newspaper, and he leaves town.
However, Marcia finds that she cannot live without Bartley, and even though she is hurt because of the other girl, she leaves her home and follows Bartley. They marry and continue on to Boston. I wonder if their marriage would have run more smooth from this point if they would have remained in Equity, but they aren't in Equity and I doubt it would have helped. From this point on the book centers on the quarrels and reconciliations of this couple, and there are alot of them. Marcia is so absorbed in Bartley that it is annoying, if not for him, it is for the rest of us. She is extremely jealous and just a woman talking to Bartley throws her into a rage.
Sometimes during the novel you feel as if Bartley is a great criminal, as low as you could ever be; but really he isn't. He is just too handsome, too shallow, and way, way too selfish. But there was good in him, it seems as if he was really a good natured man; if he would have had the right influences in his life things may have turned out differently. However, as the book goes on he falls lower and lower, Marcia is absolutely no help; she seems to spend her time either gazing at Bartley with admiration and devotion in her eyes hanging on his every word, or slamming doors and locking them because she saw another woman speak to him at a party.
Here are some of the most memorable lines for me anyway:
"He still clung to his old-fashioned deistical opinions; but he thought no worse of a man for not holding them; he did not deny that a man might be a Christian, and still be a very good man."
"Well, I shouldn't begin to plough for corn just yet," replied Kinney. "It's curious," he went on, "to see how anxious we are to have a thing over, it don't much matter what it is, whether it's summer or winter. I suppose we'd feel different if we wa'n't sure there was going to be another of 'em. I guess that's one reason why the Lord concluded not to keep us clearly posted on the question of another life. If it wa'n't for the uncertainty of the thing, there are a lot of fellows like you that wouldn't stand it here a minute. Why, if we had a dead sure thing of over-the-river,--good climate, plenty to eat and wear, and not much to do,--I don't believe any of us would keep Darling Minnie waiting,--well, a _great_ while"
"But he was restored to reason when the composer sat down at the piano and played, amid the hush that falls on society at such times, something from Beethoven, and again something of his own, which was so like Beethoven that Beethoven himself would not have known the difference.."
"Halleck turned. "What could be a worse hell than marriage without love?" he demanded, fiercely. "Love without marriage," said Atherton".
I liked the book, I'll read it again someday. For me it was definitely a four star novel....more
This is an extraordinarily entertaining read. It's a strange hybrid of moral narrative and broad comedic satire. While the moral purpose of the novel will mean little to most people today, the satire and the plot events kept me interested and engaged. Howells's interest in developing "realistic" fiction ("naturalistic" as literary critics would say) is strongly apparent in this work, in which the two main characters' "love" and marriage are shown to take the courses they do because of the two paThis is an extraordinarily entertaining read. It's a strange hybrid of moral narrative and broad comedic satire. While the moral purpose of the novel will mean little to most people today, the satire and the plot events kept me interested and engaged. Howells's interest in developing "realistic" fiction ("naturalistic" as literary critics would say) is strongly apparent in this work, in which the two main characters' "love" and marriage are shown to take the courses they do because of the two parties' inherent psychological characteristics as well as how they react to outward events beyond their control. A very interesting novel....more
A solid read. I enjoyed it. I think it accurately describes both the mechanics and the ethos of American journalism. To wit: Bartley Hubbard, a newspaperman blessed with "no more moral nature than a baseball," serves as the prototype of the glib and smiling journalist familiar to the audiences of Nightline or Washington Week.
I have a better understanding of what the title means in relation to the book and now. Naming the book A Modern Instance might seem a bit presumptuous but the story does relate well a hundred years later, which shoes that this the theme of the book is indeed a modern one that still plagues us. I really like how I was able to see that this book was relatable to things like The Princess Bride or "The Dark Night" and it was easier to see how it could relate to my life. I definetly enjoyed this moreI have a better understanding of what the title means in relation to the book and now. Naming the book A Modern Instance might seem a bit presumptuous but the story does relate well a hundred years later, which shoes that this the theme of the book is indeed a modern one that still plagues us. I really like how I was able to see that this book was relatable to things like The Princess Bride or "The Dark Night" and it was easier to see how it could relate to my life. I definetly enjoyed this more than Middlemarch and would happily read it again....more
review of William Dean Howells's A Modern Instance by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 25, 2013
WARNING: This review has spoilers but is hopefully written in such a way that even if you read it thru it won't actually spoil yr enjoyment of reading the novel b/c the review doesn't give you the plot as much as it does my meta-take on the plot.
It seems almost inevitable to me thareview of William Dean Howells's A Modern Instance by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 25, 2013
WARNING: This review has spoilers but is hopefully written in such a way that even if you read it thru it won't actually spoil yr enjoyment of reading the novel b/c the review doesn't give you the plot as much as it does my meta-take on the plot.
It seems almost inevitable to me that reading a bk entitled A Modern Instance over 130 yrs after it was originally published is going to yield a bit of 'how modern does it seem now?' type thinking - much as a Science Fiction novel written predicting what was then the future & now the past will undergo scrutiny as to its accuracy. In this case, Howells is a very good observer of human nature & I found myself emotionally engaged in his characters in a way I wdn't have if they didn't still ring true.
As seems to be usually the case when I read a 19th century novel these days I find myself wondering why I bother when I have so many other bks to read & review that're more immediately relevant to my current life & interests. Nonetheless, I generally find the descriptions to be written w/ detail that appeals. Furthermore, what ultimately endeared me to this bk, & wch was something completely unexpected to me, was that I ended up w/ a personal take on the people in it that brought to my introspective attn some of my takes on people in general.
In particular, I found myself at odds w/ the author of the Introduction, noted Howells scholar Edwin H. Cady. Ordinarily, I read such framing material in full expectation of being illuminated by the scholarship. I accept as a given the superior knowledge of the commentator. I read Cady's Intro &, not having read the novel yet, just read it w/o having any understanding of what he was referring to. THEN I read the novel & gradually began to find Cady's introduction to it.. repulsive.. almost like a malicious gossip's unfair maligning. It was as if Cady, himself, was a particular type of person in real life who was envious of the type of person represented by the main character Bartley Hubbard & who was taking out his own frustrations on the character.
"Bartley was not a villain. There wasn't enough of him to furnish forth villainy. He was just a run-of-the-mill scoundrel with nothing much in him but a large, tender ego and a great deal of shallow cleverness. He had not an unselfish bone in his body, nor one that wasn't lazy. Is he not a modern man? Is he not the modern man, the "new man," a foregone failure?" - p xvi
The reader is certainly being set up for a completely negative perception of Bartley, in much the same way an 'expert witness' at a trial acts like a spin doctor to ruin the reputation of whoever he's being pd top dollar to defame. &, yet, consider this tidbit from a few pp later:
"But scarcely half of A Modern Instance had been serialized before Mark Twain, lost in admiration at the portrayal of the drunken scoundrel Bartley, claimed emphatically that Howells had taken Bartley from Sam Clemens. Promptly denying it, Howells said he had used himself for Bartley." - p xviii
Interesting, eh? Clemens/Twain liked the character enuf to identify w/ him & so did Howells. Given that they both may've had a sense of humor & probably more than a little bit of self-deprecating humor, they might've still felt that Bartley Hubbard wasn't w/o his redeeming qualities. So is he really "the drunken scoundrel" Cady makes him out to be? I think not. From my POV, Hubbard actually has MORE qualities than most of the other characters in the novel - most of whom are envious & contemptuous of him w/o any trace of introspection about themselves & their own privileges & weaknesses.
The novel's action precedes, happens during, & follows the contested presidential election of 1876 in wch the people voted for Samuel J. Tilden but the Electoral College voted for Rutherford B. Hayes. Hence Hayes became president against the voting public's wishes. From Howells's perspective of the 'modernity' of these times, youth was having a pretty unrestrained time of it:
"It was midnight, as the sharp strokes of a wooden clock declared from the kitchen; and they were alone together and all the other inmates of the house were asleep. This situation, hardly conceivable to another civilization, is so common in ours, where youth commands its fate, and trusts solely to itself, that it may be said to be characteristic of the New England civilization wherever it keeps its simplicity. It was not stolen or clandestine; it would have shocked no one in the village if the whole village had known it; all that a girl's parents ordinarily exacted was that they should not be waked up." - p 7
Hubbard, "the drunken scoundrel", as Cady wd have the reader think, is a handsome & witty man who gets the girls. Does Cady envy him & his counterparts in real life? After reading the whole bk, I tend to think so. In fact, much of the hatred in the novel directed against Hubbard seems to be based on such envy by people who never acknowledge it to themselves or anyone else. Whether Howells intended this to be read that way or not, I can't say. Here's Bartley flirting w/ Marcia, the girl who eventually becomes his wife, by trying to get her to write a letter accepting his invite to go on a ride thru the snow w/ him:
""Now the address. Dear"—
""No, no!" she protested.
""Yes, yes! dear Mr. Hubbard. There, that will do! Now the signature: Yours"—
""I wont write that. I wont, indeed!"
""Oh, yes you will. You only think you wont. Yours gratefully, Marcia Gaylord. That's right. The Gaylord is not very legible, on account of a slight tremor in the writer's arm, resulting from a constrained posture, perhaps. Thanks, Miss Gaylord, I will be here promptly at the hour indicated"—
"The noises renewed themselves overhead; some one seemed to be moving about. Hubbard laid his hand on that of the girl still resting on the table, and grasped it in burlesque alarm; she could scarcely stifle her mirth." - p 13
Marcia can "scarcely stifle her mirth" b/c Bartley's flirtation is doing exactly what he wants it to do: it's making her have fun, making her attracted to him. Is this "shallow cleverness" or "lazy", as Cady describes him? I think not. It's both hard work & ACTUALLY CLEVER. Cady strikes me as a type of man who ENVIES Hubbard b/c he's good at what less successful men only wish they were. The above passages are from the beginning of the novel. Cady says that "When A Modern Instance opens, Bartley is, though mildly, already demonic." (p xvii)
"Bartley is the first fully drawn worshipper of William James's "bitch-goddess Success" in American fiction. He is the new "success" type (who would so confuse later writers like Norris and Dreiser and London). Cozy, he is quick to spot a hole and dive through it to advantage. Easy-going , cynical, he lives by an unrationalized code of social Darwinism. When he can, he will 'take' anybody for anything and in any way; he will exploit and devour; never a lover or a giver, he lives psychically and professionally by grasping and extorting." - p xvii
Cady even quotes character Ben Halleck in his condemnation of Hubbard: "As early as college he had achieved, as his generous, self-sacrificing friend Halleck perceived, "no more moral nature than a baseball."" (p xvii) But there are some very, very significant things lacking in Cady's characterization here. Ben Halleck's 'generosity' is w/ inherited wealth - he didn't work for it, it's from his father's leather business. Never is Ben's wealth questioned as potential ill-gotten gains. In fact, EVERYONE'S money, except for Hubbard's, is accepted as somehow deserved - even tho the 'charitable' Clara Kingsbury is depicted as more or less completely out of touch w/ the harsh realities that she's ostensibly dedicated to 'righting'.
In fact, Ben's hatred for Bartley is rooted in one simple thing far more than any other: Bartley gets the girl(s) - in this case, Bartley specifically gets the beautiful Marcia who Ben's been pining for in secret. But Ben has a somewhat crippled leg b/c as a child he injured it after being tripped by another child. I kept wondering if this wd be neatly tied together by having the malicious tripper turn out to be Bartley. I'm thankful to Howells that he didn't go that route. Ben never acknowledges to himself that he's sexually frustrated & inhibited by his leg. Instead, Bartley, who's not nearly as horrible a husband as the others frequently choose to believe, is under constant scrutiny for any action that can be blamed against him. Bartley is assertive, he has to be to survive. Unlike Ben, he isn't wallowing in inherited wealth that enables him to wander aimlessly in a self-deluding miasma of impotent self-righteousness. Interestingly, Ben asks the lawyer Atherton, sometimes presented as one of the more ethical characters, this question about Marcia's reaction to Ben's taking Bartley home one night after Bartley had gotten uncharacteristically drunk (followed by Atherton's reply):
""Shouldn't you expect her to make you pay somehow for your privity to her disgrace, to revenge her misery upon you? Isn't there a theory that women forgive injuries, but never ignominies?"
""That's what the novelists teach, and we bachelors get most of our doctrine about women from them."" - p 283
Ben knows nothing about women, despite having 3 sisters, &, of course, there's plenty of novelistic self-reflexive humor in Atherton's reply. Ultimately, it's the moral posturing here that I can't relate to. B/c Bartley gets drunk ONCE Marcia is 'disgraced'. NOT. Was that really the way it was in that social milieu in the mid to late 19th century? I reckon yes b/c Howells seems to be an excellent realistic observer. But from my 21st century perspective that seems particularly stupid. Skipping back in the narrative a few paragraphs we have this:
""Atherton," he said, "if you found a blackguard of your acquaintance drunk on your doorstep early one morning, and had taken him home to his wife, how would you have expected her to treat you the next time you saw her?"" - pp 282-283
Ben refers to Bartley as a "blackguard", pompously passing judgment. &, yet, in one of the few instances that I see to Ben's credit, he saves Bartley from being arrested, in order to spare Marcia the misery:
""Do you know this man, Mr. Halleck?" asked the policeman.
""Yes—yes, I know him," said Ben, in a low voice. "Let's get him away quietly, please. He's all right. It's the first time I ever saw him so. Will you help me with him up to Johnson's stable? I'll get a carriage there and take him home." - p 272
Even Ben admits that "It's the first time I ever saw him so" drunk &, yet, b/c of this ONE incident & b/c he develops a habit of drinking light beer later on he's called by Cady a "drunken scoundrel".
From the Introduction, I got the impression that Bartley was a reporter. He was, but he was, more importantly, an editor. Howells was a magazine editor who transitioned away from that into full-time novelist thru this bk. Undoubtedly, Howells was critical of the ethics of mainstream publishing, undoubtedly Hubbard is used as a critical foil. But I see Hubbard as not so much a scoundrel as simply an energetic man who doesn't ethically scrutinize the givens of the social milieu he finds himself in. But neither does anyone else. All the characters are just un-self-critical players in the game they find themselves born into.
While Howells is still setting the atmosphere of the small town that the novel begins in, he writes that: "Religion had largely ceased to be a fact of spiritual experience and the visible church flourished on condition of providing for the social needs of the community." (p 24) Now given that I find religion to be one of the most malevolent forces in society b/c it encourages total obedience to a non-existent external authority that unscrupulous humans then present themselves as representatives of, I don't think that churches that provide "for the social needs of the community" are a bad idea at all. If they cd get rid of the 'god' shit & just serve an actual positive purpose for the community then they'd be much, much better from my POV.
But what surprised me here was the modernity of such a description. Throughout my adult life, as a performer I've often used church spaces for events. In BalTimOre, where I'm originally from, there were at least 4 inner-city churches that were open to political & cultural events that had no connection otherwise to the church & its dogma. EG: here's footage of a Franz Kamin performance called "A.S.R.B.#1 (Aleatoric Reactory Systemic Bulletin #1)" in a church: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tzwxf... & of another Franz Kamin peerformance of a piece called "Unknowing Games at the Hut"": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C32z98... at another church.
Cady says that Hubbard "will 'take' anybody for anything and in any way; he will exploit and devour; [& is] never a lover or a giver" but it seems to me that there are numerous instances in Howells's depiction of him that contradict this. Take this internal monolog of Hubbard's: "A distaste for their somewhat veteran ways in flirtation grew upon him as he thought of her; he philosophized against them to her advantage; he could not blame her if she did not know how to hide her feelings for him. Yet he knew that Marcia would rather have died than let him suppose that she cared for him, if she had known that she was doing it. The fun of it was that she should not know; this charmed him, it touched him even; he did not think of it exultantly, as the night before, but sweetly, fondly, and with a final curiosity to see her again, and enjoy the fact in her presence." (p 31) He thinks of Marcia "to her advantage", he's "charmed" & "touched", he thinks of matters related to her "sweetly" & "fondly" - these are hardly the characterizations of a completely hard-hearted man.
Cady prejudices the reader in advance by referring to Bartley as "the drunken scoundrel". However, this isn't born out by the narrative. Take, eg, this: "Ricker offered him his choice of beer or claret, and Bartley temperately preferred water to either; he could see that this raised him in Ricker's esteem." (p 171) Indeed, while Hubbard eventually develops a drinking habit, he's initially plagued by an actual drunkard whose excesses far exceed anything Hubbard ever reaches:
""Old Morrison was here, just before you came in, and said he wanted to see you. I think he was drunk," said Bird, anxiously. "He said he was coming back again."
"Where Morrison got his liquor from was a question that agitated Equity from time to time, and baffled the officer of the law empowered to see that no strong drink came into the town. Under conditions which made it impossible even in the logging camps, and rendered the sale of spirits too precarious for the apothecary, who might be supposed to deal in them medicinally, Morrison never failed of his spree when the mysterious mechanism of his appetite enforced it. Probably it was some form of bedevilled cider that supplied the material of his debauch; but even cider was not easily to be had." - pp 63-64
The ensuing encounter w/ the drunk Morrison is one of the key events leading to Hubbard's eventual downfall. In this encounter, Hubbard is sober. The misunderstanding deliberately fostered by Morrison's drunkenness leads to Hubbard's jealous assistant assaulting Bartley:
"Here his rage culminated, and with a blind cry of "Ay!" he struck the paper, which he had kept in his hand into Bartley's face.
"The demons, whatever they were, of anger, remorse, pride, shame, were at work in Bartley's heart too, and he returned the blow as instantly as if Bird's touch had set the mechanism of his arm in motion. In contempt of the other's weakness he struck with the flat of his hand, but the blow was enough. Bird fell headlong, and the concussion of his head upon the floor did the rest. He lay senseless." - p 69
Bartley, engaged to be married to Squire Gaylord's daughter, Marcia, is faced w/ the decision of how to break the news of his having hit Bird & of Bird's subsequent concussion: "If on the other hand, he went first to Squire Gaylord the old lawyer might insist that the engagement was already at an end by Bartley's violent act, and might well refuse to let a man in his position even see his daughter." (p 75) &, yes, Bartley is ill-perceived & treated. It appears that no-one seems to blame Bird much for the assault that resulted in his being struck back. "The more Bartley dwelt upon his hard case, during the week that followed, the more it appeared to him that he was punished out of all proportion to his offense." (p 83) Howells may've been ironically mocking Bartley's indignation here but I tend to agree w/ Hubbard's assessment & to take it even further. Hubbard was actually SORRY he'd struck Bird - & not for purely selfish reasons. I say Bird deserved it.
As for Cady's contention that Hubbard's "never a lover or a giver"? I say, once again, the narrative contradicts this. Marcia is understandably angry about a social affair she & Bartley have just gone to. She's sensitive to things that Bartley's willfully oblivious to. When they return home she rushes off to bed in a huff. Consider Bartley's reaction:
"Bartley stood a moment in the fury that tempted him to pursue her with a taunt, and then leave her to work herself out of the transport of senseless jealousy she had wrought herself into. But he set his teeth, and, full of inward cursing, he followed her upstairs with a slow, dogged step. He took her in his arms without a word, and held her fast, while his anger changed to pity, and then to laughing. When it came to that, she put up her arms, which she had kept rigidly at her side, and laid them round his neck, and began softly to cry on his breast." - p 228
Bartley chooses to de-escalate the situation rather than to give in to his anger. That strikes me as a loving & giving solution....more
Reading the first few chapters alone was worth it because of the insights provided into the character of Bartley Hubbard. I first "met" Bartley in Howells' novel "The Rise of Silas Lapham" and thought him cynical, but likable (except for the way he treated his wife). "A Modern Instance" is Bartley's story and finding out that he was an orphan and a self-made man wannabe really shows how despicable he was during his interview with Silas Lapham in the aforementioned book. Howells very deftly letsReading the first few chapters alone was worth it because of the insights provided into the character of Bartley Hubbard. I first "met" Bartley in Howells' novel "The Rise of Silas Lapham" and thought him cynical, but likable (except for the way he treated his wife). "A Modern Instance" is Bartley's story and finding out that he was an orphan and a self-made man wannabe really shows how despicable he was during his interview with Silas Lapham in the aforementioned book. Howells very deftly lets us understand that Bartley is an immature and selfish narcissist and the reader's heart goes out to his poor wife (who is just as sweet in this book as she was in her cameo in the Lapham text). The device of highlighting a minor character from one text in another reminds me of Balzac (and why not? I think the American realists made no secret of their admiration for him nor his influence on them). Howells impresses me more and more....more
I can see the historical importance of the novel: its careful focus on characters' psychology, its treatment of the largely man's world of journalism, its concern with changing estimations of religion are hallmarks of nineteenth-century realism. Yet I was bothered by Howells' assumptions about women's psychological and cognitive weakness and regional differences. As a champion of regional fiction, he might have been more sophisticated about people from outside the urban cultural centers. Yet EdiI can see the historical importance of the novel: its careful focus on characters' psychology, its treatment of the largely man's world of journalism, its concern with changing estimations of religion are hallmarks of nineteenth-century realism. Yet I was bothered by Howells' assumptions about women's psychological and cognitive weakness and regional differences. As a champion of regional fiction, he might have been more sophisticated about people from outside the urban cultural centers. Yet Edith Wharton, who I find to be much more effective as a writer (and more modern in writing about divorce), also betrays this kind of bias in some of her work. Anyway, I like that the main characters in A Modern Instance are somewhat complicated, but I also wish they hadn't been so flawed--Marcia swinging between jealousy and self-recrimination and her husband Bartley so obviously a cad. ...more
This novel is an expose of the doomed marriage (and, eventually and blessedly, divorce) between the jealous, overemotional Marcia Gaylord and her selfish, manipulative egomaniac of a husband, Bartley Hubbard. For some reason, this book was absolutely fascinating despite the fact that it portrays two deeply unlikeable people making each other miserable. Case in point: at one point while reading this I fell down the staircase in my house because I couldn't put the book down long enough to pay atteThis novel is an expose of the doomed marriage (and, eventually and blessedly, divorce) between the jealous, overemotional Marcia Gaylord and her selfish, manipulative egomaniac of a husband, Bartley Hubbard. For some reason, this book was absolutely fascinating despite the fact that it portrays two deeply unlikeable people making each other miserable. Case in point: at one point while reading this I fell down the staircase in my house because I couldn't put the book down long enough to pay attention to where I was going. Reading this was almost like watching one of those trashy celebrity couple "reality" shows, except infinitely more intellectually fulfilling....more
A Modern Instance was an interesting read. I enjoyed how easily I could feel for the characters. I was angry with Marcia for being such a deluded idiot and I melted when Ben revealed that the picture he held on to was really a picture of Marcia. It is interesting that when I read the beginning, I actually liked Bartley, but by the end of the novel I detested him. I think Howells did that by changing Bartley's physical appearance towards the end. Howells could not be biased since he decided to wrA Modern Instance was an interesting read. I enjoyed how easily I could feel for the characters. I was angry with Marcia for being such a deluded idiot and I melted when Ben revealed that the picture he held on to was really a picture of Marcia. It is interesting that when I read the beginning, I actually liked Bartley, but by the end of the novel I detested him. I think Howells did that by changing Bartley's physical appearance towards the end. Howells could not be biased since he decided to write the novel in a journalistic way, so he had to create images in the minds of readers that would make each reader begin to form biases of his/her own....more
What a moving book. It just goes to show how ambition and jealousy can threaten to destroy a marriage and how the innocent party would be looked on by a society where divorce was shunned. An excellent read.
I wish I liked it more, and I understand the novelty and shock of the theme, but my humble opinion is that it never got the reader there - what's common today, if then was an aberration, should still hit the modern reader like a blow, and the book just...treaded water, or rather did a dead man's float, all the way through. I was unmoved, untouched, and really didn't care at the end, even though Howells did create most of the characters as fully three-dimensional people.
As I grow older, I become more aware of how the seemingly peaceful "days gone by" were, in truth, filled with many of the same mistakes and frustrations that society and individuals still face today. Hence, while culture described in the story was very different from the culture I live in, the characters and their views felt very familiar.
I liked the dynamic of the love triangle but, like every book by Howells that I have read, the characters are unbelievably dramatic about everything that happens to them. I thought this was supposed to be realistic, but then again, maybe I don't really know what "American realism" is.
Howell’s depiction of character flaws, failing marriage, and the corruption of individual isolation in modern, industrial, and capitalistic America, is one of heartrendingly desolation, reflecting a shift in American literature to realism.
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 eWillam 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 editor in 1871, remaining in the position until 1881.
In 1869 he first met Mark Twain, which began a longtime friendship. Even more important for the development of his literary style — his advocacy of Realism — was his relationship with the journalist Jonathan Baxter Harrison, who during the 1870s wrote a series of articles for the Atlantic Monthly on the lives of ordinary Americans.
He wrote his first novel, Their Wedding Journey, in 1872, but his literary reputation took off with the realist novel A Modern Instance, published in 1882, which described the decay of a marriage. His 1885 novel The Rise of Silas Lapham is perhaps his best known, describing the rise and fall of an American entrepreneur of the paint business. His social views were also strongly represented in the novels Annie Kilburn (1888), A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), and An Imperative Duty (1892). He was particularly outraged by the trials resulting from the Haymarket Riot.
His poems were collected during 1873 and 1886, and a volume under the title Stops of Various Quills was published during 1895. He was the initiator of the school of American realists who derived, through the Russians, from Balzac and had little sympathy with any other type of fiction, although he frequently encouraged new writers in whom he discovered new ideas.
Howells also wrote plays, criticism, and essays about contemporary literary figures such as Henrik Ibsen, Émile Zola, Giovanni Verga, Benito Pérez Galdós, and, especially, Leo Tolstoy, which helped establish their reputations in the United States. He also wrote critically in support of American writers Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, Emily Dickinson, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Sarah Orne Jewett, Charles W. Chesnutt, Abraham Cahan, Madison Cawein,and Frank Norris. It is perhaps in this role that he had his greatest influence. In his "Editor's Study" column at the Atlantic Monthly and, later, at Harper's, he formulated and disseminated his theories of "realism" in literature.
In 1904 he was one of the first seven people chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, of which he became president.
Howells died in Manhattan on May 11, 1920. He was buried in Cambridge Cemetery in Massachusetts.