Dusty's Reviews > A Hazard of New Fortunes

A Hazard of New Fortunes by William Dean Howells
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Jul 01, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: personal-canon, read-in-2012
Read from July 01 to 22, 2012

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 the publicity man Fulkerson, the brooding, dandyish artist Beaton, the family of the lucky Indianan gas miner Dryfoos, the one-armed German immigrant Lindau, and so on. The periodical, which is financed by Dryfoos, managed by Fulkerson, and edited by March, is on a smaller scale very much the same kind of multicultural laboratory that New York City is, itself, and Howells writes a detailed and gripping slice of city life. Unfortunately, the corruption and social ills March and others note in their flâneurie around town are just as present in any American city now, a century and quarter later, as in 1890. A few bits I've read about William Dean Howells have conceded that he's not often read these days and rebutted this sad fact by acknowledging that he is, nevertheless, the father of American realism. Whatever the state of Howells's literary reputation, A Hazard of New Fortunes is a hell of a book.
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