THE THRESHOLD OF A NEW CENTURYI. Fiction Since 1870.II. The Modern Poets.III. The Innovators: Free Verse.IV. The Essay and the
The New Spirit.
THE continuity of literature is, happily, not a continuity of unvarying standards or unchanging ideals.
"New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth."
Literature is normally in a transitional state and there are no hard and fast chronological lines that separate
the old from the new. Nevertheless there occur periods more or less clearly marked, in which one may
trace the advent of new interests and the waning of old traditions. Such a period in the history of our
literature may be recognized in both England and America. We characterize it as the passing of the
Victorian Age; it is almost coincident with the end of the nineteenth century. In both countries the writers
and thinkers who had dominated the thought of their age had passed and a new generation had arrived.
The spirit of the age was changing. The Victorian attitude was complacent; it was largely influenced by
the past. The new generation was more insistent in its questionings and protests, more independent of
established conventions and unreserved in its utterance. In America the new spirit is felt in the poetry
of Markham, Hovey, Moody, and Robinson, whose work began to appear just before the close of the
century. In fiction we have to look a little later for the expression of the new ideals; and yet the eighties
and the nineties produced some interesting achievements in both realism and romance; developed a
perfected art in the short story; brought forth the best novels of W. D. Howells, Henry James, and Marion
Crawford; and saw the first work of Mrs. Deland, Ellen Glasgow, Hamlin Garland, Robert Herrick, and
Winston Churchill -- outstanding figures in the years that follow.
To take adequate account of our later American fiction would require far more space than is available
in this book. Hardly more than a list of the most prominent among our novelists can be included, with a
partial classification of their work. Although it is in fiction that American writers are now most prolific and
most successful, it is doubtful if many of these works will find a place in the literature which endures, or
if any of these popular novelists will be long remembered. Two schools of fiction are represented: the
realistic, and the romantic. It is not always easy to discriminate, however, and there are writers who
have used the methods of both schools.
W. D. Howells, 1837-1920.
William Dean Howells, a consistent and uncompromising representative of the claims of realism, is recognized
as easily the foremost American novelist of his generation. His father was a country editor; and it was in
a printing-office in his native state of Ohio that Howells received his literary training. The publication,
with John J. Piatt, of Poems of Two Friends(1860) marked the beginning of his career. A campaign
Life of Lincoln in the same year secured his appointment as consul to Venice, a position which he held
for four years. Venetian Life (1866) and Italian Journeys (1867) were the fruit of foreign residence.
In 1866, Howells was made assistant editor (under James T. Fields) of the Atlantic Monthly; and from
1871 to 1881 he was the editor of the magazine. A vivacious novel, Their Wedding Journey (1871),
added to the reputation already gained by the two Italian books, and this was increased by A Chance
Acquaintance (1873) and A Foregone Conclusion (1874). Mr. Howells is the author of more than thirty
volumes, mainly works of fiction. Of these, A Modern Instance (1882), The Rise of Silas Lapham (1884),
Indian Summer (1885), and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1889) have probably aroused widest interest.
Howells's literary workmanship is deserving of the highest praise. He is minutely conscientious in his
studies of character and incident, insisting upon careful observation and an honest report. His theory of
literary art is set forth in an interesting essay, Criticism and Fiction (1891). After 1881, the novelist was
associated editorally with various periodicals, including Harper's Magazine. While fiction predominates