“Let fiction cease to lie about life; let it portray men and women as they are, actuated by the motives and the passions in the measure we all know.”—William Dean Howells
The Rise of Silas Lapham, first published in book form in 1885, was the first important novel to center on the American businessman and the first to treat its theme with a realism that was to foreshadow the work of modern writers. In his story of Yankee Silas Lapham—one of the millionaires who flourished with the expanding industrialization of post-Civil War years—William Dean Howells probed the moral and social conflicts that confronted a self-made man who attempted to crash Boston’s old-guard, aristocratic society. Howells was essentially sympathetic to his hero: his Silas Lapham was a man of conscience who fully realized his folly. But he was also an ambitious man who knowingly let his aspirations lead him to hazard both his fortune and his family’s happiness for status in a society that could never accept him. “His perceptions were sure, his integrity was absolute,” wrote Henry Seidel Canby of William Dean Howells, whom he credited as being “responsible for giving the American novel form.”
About the Author
William Dean Howells was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, on March 1, 1837. His father was a printer and newspaperman, and the family moved from town to town. Howells went to school where he could. As a boy he began learning the printer’s skill. By the time he was in his teens he was setting type for his own verse. Between 1856 and 1861 he worked as a reporter for the Ohio State Journal. About this time his poems began to appear in the Atlantic Monthly. His campaign biography of Abraham Lincoln, compiled in 1860, prompted the administration to offer him the consulship at Venice, a post he held from 1861 to 1865. He married Elinor Gertrude Meade, a young woman from Vermont, in 1862 Paris. On his return to the United States in 1865, Howells worked in New York before going to Boston as assistant to James T. Fields of The Atlantic Monthly. In 1871 he became editor-in-chief of the magazine. In this position he worked with many young writers, among them Mark Twain and Henry James, both of whom became his close friends. His first novel, Their Wedding Journey, appeared in 1872. The Rise of Silas Lapham was serialized in Century Magazine before it was published in book form in 1885. A Hazard of New Fortunes was published five years later. His position as critic, writer, and enthusiastic exponent of the new realism earned William Dean Howells the respected title of Dean of American Letters. He died in 1920.
Louis Auchincloss is a highly acclaimed novelist, literary critic, and historian. His more than fifty books include The Rector of Justin, The House of Five Talents, and The Atonement. He is also the author of several nonfiction works including The Man Behind the Book: Literary Profiles and a member and current president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York City.
Praise for The Rise of Silas Lapham…
"[Howells's] perceptions were sure, his integrity was absolute." Henry Seidel Canby