By Phillip Barrish
Targeting key works of late-nineteenth and early- twentieth-century American literary realism, Phillip Barrish lines the emergence of latest methods of gaining highbrow prestige--that is, new methods of gaining some extent of cultural attractiveness. via prolonged readings of works through Henry James, William Dean Howells, Abraham Cahan, and Edith Wharton, Barrish emphasizes the diversities among realist modes of cultural authority and people linked to the increase of the social sciences.
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This second clause may sound like a retreat from Howells’s position as evaluator of literary dialect, but in fact it merely emphasizes again that the editorial “we” has no desire legalistically to argue its “misgivings” at the level of ﬁrst-order evidence: yes, yes, Wilkins may have heard “thar” or “whar” in New England – Howells’s editorial “we” does not wish to claim an omnipotence that could discover whether anybody ever happened to utter those syllables in Wilkins’s presence. ” Howells’s column works to suggest that Wilkins may very well know a particular locality and its dialect quite thoroughly, and, unlike the characters in her ﬁction, no doubt she is in full control of how that dialect diﬀers from standard English.
Yet as if undoing something that retroactively feels too pat in this closing scene of The Rise of Silas Lapham, The Minister’s Charge opens with Sewell returning to Boston from deep in the New England countryside, this time “evasive” about his interaction with the farm boy Lemuel Barker. Barker, who lives in an “unpainted wooden house” and has a “granite-soul,” immediately recalls the Silas Lapham whom Sewell was visiting as the previous work ended (pp. , ). Yet what Sewell wishes to evade in this opening scene of The Minister’s Charge, but almost immediately owns up to, is the hard fact that, because of their social diﬀerences, neither he nor any of his established Boston friends can really understand, communicate with, or do much to help Lemuel Barker.
Most of the radical activists who play supporting roles in these novels – both Conrad Dryfoos and Lindau in A Hazard of New Fortunes, for instance, as well as Hughes in The World of Chance and the Reverend Peck in Annie Kilburn – do not recognize the complexities that surround their passionately pursued projects. ”50 One way of understanding the challenge faced by late s and s Howellsian protagonists is as how to oppose pervasive social injustices wholeheartedly without rendering themselves as Howells and the roots of realist taste “ﬂat” or caricature characters, which would be a stylistic error both on their own part and on the part of their realist author.
American literary realism by Phillip Barrish