Monday, 13 November 2017

The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells


Silas Lapham had to be punished. I wonder why. He’s an essentially decent vulgarian as banausic as they come but not an evil man. The garish colours that emerge from his paint mine are at least cheerful unlike the magnolia of the class that is set up against him. They are represented by the Corey’s whose son is interested in a career with Silas. Thomas Corey is reverting to the mercantile roots of his family. Grandfather had laid down the gold of yore in import export. The middle generation was engaged in decorous spending, no showing off, smooth Harvard pieties of Beacon Street rule. Are there any Latin tags, there should be. I forget. There’s a pale aesthetic aspect to the Corey’s.

William Dean Howells sends his doppleganger Bartley Hubbard, also a newspaperman, to interview Lapham in the opening pages of the novel and gives us hints that are never followed up on that there might be a mediating voice in the novel. Alas ‘tis only a devise to fill us in on the rise of Lapham to where he now hangs like that ball in the sky. Leave it to me, I’ve got it, this is mine says Howells. Does it fall between ‘this reporter’s hands’? No it doesn’t. He fields it nicely and keeps the story moving along. There is no high gloss finish (note to self, keep up the paint metaphors) nor is there the muted eggshell only primary durability painted on the rocks and barnsides of America. Good stuff representing the continuing deploring tradition of the scribal class. He ‘helmed’ The Atlantic Monthly in its early days. We are told this:

Of all the men of letters who took the helm at The Atlantic Monthly in its first fifty years, perhaps its most prolific and well-known was William Dean Howells—at least in his day. In our time, however, Howells is relatively unknown, especially when compared with the writers he helped bring to national prominence—Mark Twain and Henry James, among others. But a new Howells biography by Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson, published this year, has returned this author of some forty novels to the literary spotlight. 
(from: atlantic)
That ‘helm’ in the first sentence, is it a deliberately crass echo of a imdb review or The Atlantic Monthly turning its megaphone into an ear trumpet? I am aweary. The electric blanket has been on awhile. I to bed.

Another American classic.

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