Real = Boring?

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Illustration

This could be Pen and Tom!

Not necessarily.  We learned in class that Mr. W.D. Howells was a major proponent of the American Realism literary movement.  The Rise of Silas Lapham is a perfect example of Howells emphasizing characters, class/background, and moral choices over action.  We hear about their daily lives: waking up, how they slept, eating breakfast, going to work, riding the ferry, etc.  We also explore, in depth, their social status and perceived morality.  Social status really comes forward when the Laphams interact with the Coreys and morality is mostly concerned with Lapham’s business dealings and Penelope’s obligations to her sister.

The problem is, in my opinion, is a snoringly slow pacing.  Perhaps I’m spoiled by “Sentimental” fiction and I’m just the kind of person that Howells is trying to reform.  But if that is his goal, he has pretty much driven me away because his style of realism offers very little reading pleasure.  His approach to fiction is more like reading a textbook than reading enjoyable literature.

Now, this does not have to be the case.  Some of the authors he supported, such as Mark Twain and Sarah Orne Jewett, provide the same medicine of realism but with a lovely spoonful of sugar that helps it go down.   I felt that W.D. Howells spent way too much effort exploring the motivations of his characters and not enough effort in describing them physically or giving them interesting activities.  With a choice between the daily work and home lives of a family or an adventure down a river with a runaway slave, I’ll take the river adventure any day.

Although Howells crafted a perfect example of realist literature, I can’t help wishing for: The Rise of Silas Lapham and Zombies.

Published in: on February 14, 2010 at 11:05 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Now there’s a book you could write, Ruth: _The Rise of Silas Lapham and Zombie_! It’s interesting that you mentioned the book’s treatment of character development, since Henry James excels at this and usually includes even less action than Howells.

  2. Sorry–“Zombies,” not “Zombie.”

  3. I definitely agree with your opinion of The Rise of Silas Lapham. Howells definitely pushed my abilities for sitting still long enough to read his book. Good analysis.
    Amanda Renslow

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