By Phillip Barrish
Targeting key works of late-nineteenth and early- twentieth-century American literary realism, Phillip Barrish strains the emergence of latest methods of gaining highbrow prestige--that is, new methods of gaining some extent of cultural popularity. via prolonged readings of works via Henry James, William Dean Howells, Abraham Cahan, and Edith Wharton, Barrish emphasizes the variations among realist modes of cultural authority and people linked to the increase of the social sciences.
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American Literary Realism Undoubtedly, earlier discussions of Howells such as Cady’s were naive in not considering structural relations between his work and the new forms of socioeconomic hierarchy that became predominant after the Civil War. Yet in implicitly rejecting Cady’s picture of Howells as a brave battler against his age’s most powerful interests, more recent studies have failed to substitute a good explanation for the discourse of conﬂict in Howells’s writing – the sharply polemical feel of his magazine criticism, in particular – that led Cady to title the culminating second volume of his biography: Realist at War.
In Boston newspapers such as the Sunrise, as Sewell explains to his wife, such gaiety is “odious” because of how it minimizes the seriousness of urban tragedies. Where news reporters’ tones of ﬂippant gaiety seem of a piece with how their coverage often “rather blinked” the city’s truly “worst cases,” the wry smiles of Sewell, March, and Morrell attest to the clear-eyedness that they bring to hard realities (Novels, –, p. ). When a sick and poor infant whom Annie Kilburn had philanthropically sent to the seaside dies there instead of getting better, Annie “hysterically” announces to Dr.
Except for Penelope, the Laphams themselves prefer houses stuﬀed full of what Howells calls “the costliest and most abominable” of everything, and decorated with “black-walnut ﬁnish, high-studding, and cornices” (pp. , ). This “crude taste” that the Laphams have, their unfailing attraction to what the narrator dubs “obstreperous pretentiousness” (pp. , ), correlates with, for instance, a vulgar bookkeeper’s animalistic appetite for overly complicated ﬁgures of speech: “Walker began to feed in his breaded chop with the same nervous excitement with which he abandoned himself to the slangy and ﬁgurative excesses of his talk” (p.