W. D. Howells (1837-1920) occupies a peculiar position in our current literary history. Situated on the periphery, he is one of whose "marginality" seems, nevertheless, to be a necessary counterpart to the "centrality" of other writers--such as his friends Henry James and mark Twin--who are more securely fixed in the canon. Paradoxically, Howells has been an indispensable man in the middle, linking such binary pairs as East/West, romance/realism, elitism/socialism, patriarchal canon/women writers.
This volume brings together nine related essays by John W. Crowley. The first four center respectively on Howells and the Civil War, his attitudes toward women, his friendship with a homosexual writer, and the tragically short life of his daughter Winifred. Crowley's overarching purpose here is to establish Howells as perhaps the representative male writer of his time, within the gender codes of Victorian America.
The last five chapters discuss Howell's later fiction, focusing on its intense concern with psychology an psychic phenomena. Crowley not only brings this relatively neglected work more fully into view, but also argues that Howells used the writing of this fiction as a process of psychological self-healing that resembles the self-analysis of Sigmund Freud during the same years.