A Modern Instance - William Dean Howells

A Modern Instance

By William Dean Howells

  • Release Date - Published: 2020-04-02
  • Book Genre: Classics
  • Author: William Dean Howells
Our rating: 5/5 stars

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A Modern Instance William Dean Howells read online review & book description:

"A Modern Instance" is among the most vigorous performances that Mr. Howells has given to the public. The fine humor of his previous writings is here; the descriptive power, which with a few words enables us to understand the visible surroundings of the characters, the close reading of character, analyzing without seeming to do so, and all that. But the book is a deeper one than most that Mr. Howells has written, not merely because it treats of a subject that has an element of the tragic in it, but because it treats a more important theme than has yet engaged its author's attention, in a manner commensurate with its importance, and in a manner which leaves the reader with the impression that the theme has been discussed for all that it is artistically and morally worth. This story, like others that have proceeded from the same pen, is a study of certain characteristic phases of American, or rather New England, life—for Mr. Howells appears to be under the impression that there is a certain flavor—savory or unsavory— about New England life which is not to be found elsewhere, or at least nowhere else in the same intensity. The hero of "A Modern Instance" is one of those smart fellows whose smartness from the first takes quite a positive bend in the direction of scampishness. We all know of such, and the essentials of Mr. Howells' careful characterization refer themselves easily to many examples in real life. But while Bartley Hubbard is a type, he is also a distinct individuality, and the tragedy of "A Modern Instance" comes from mating his conscienceless and superficial smartness with the limited intelligence, Puritanical bringing-up, imperfect culture, and strong affections of a girl who is as much a typical New Englander as any of the smart young women who have done so much duty as representative Americans in the writings of Mr. Howells and Mr. James. There is nothing better in Mr. Howells' book than the glimpse that is given at the family surroundings of Marcia, and an Indiana divorce court is the legitimate winding-up of the mating of such a woman with such a man as Bartley Hubbard. The smart fellow literally wears out the patience of his not at all smart wife—wrecking her life just as he wrecks his own moral and physical natures. The moral of such a story is obvious, and Mr. Howells might have satisfied every requirement of artistic propriety by permitting it to point itself. He has not, however, found it possible to let go of his subject without a bit of sermonizing, which is very excellent in its particular way, but which adds nothing to the impressiveness of the narrative.

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