William Dean Howells's Theory Of Realism

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Howells ' Realism in the Confrontation Between Isabel March and Poverty in A Hazard of New Fortunes: Isabel March as an Example of Incorrect Realist Observation and Immorality. William Dean Hills in considered to be one of the most important figures of American realism in the nineteenth and twentieth century; he was the writer of a collection of essays about realism called Criticism and Fiction where he worked out his theory of the novel. These essays are relevant to this topic because this paper will deal with Howells ' notion of realism. A Hazard of New Fortunes is a realistic novel written by the American novelist and literary critic William Dean Howells and was published in 1890. In the novel, Basil March and his family move to New…show more content…
The ironic narrator and Isabel 's shock and immorality may be linked to a particular part of Howells ' notion of realism. In order to prove this statement, I have to know which part of Howells ' program of realism is the most relevant to this topic. In the introduction about William Dean Howells, John Updike argues that Howells once defined realism as 'nothing more and nothing less than the truthful treatment of material, and its subject should be of the common life of ordinary Americans ' (qtd. in "A Hazard of New Fortunes" v-vi). It is true that this novel treats the everyday life of different characters belonging to the middle class, such as the Marches, Fulkerson, Alma and her mother, and a lot of other characters. However, this definition does not explain why Howells chose an ironic narrator in the scenes where Isabel is confronted with poverty. Walter Benn Michaels stresses another element in Howells ' realism because he suggests that the core element of Howells ' realism is avoiding excess (Michaels 378). This definition means that literary excess and exaggerated emotions should not be used in realist novels (Michaels 378). Amy Kaplan also agrees with Michaels. Furthermore, she adds that the limitation of excess is also present in A Hazard of New Fortunes (Kaplan 75). However, the excess does emerge in a scene where the Marches are confronted with poverty and the poor class in New York. For example, when the street of the tenements is described, a sudden explosion of literary excess can be found (Kohler 201). The description of the tenements with the word 'and ' is repeated several times in a row (Kohler 201). The abundance of the descriptions of the shops and the excessive use of 'and ' and commas contradict the notion of Howells ' realism that constrains excess (Kohler 201). Although this definition of Howells ' realism accentuates poverty in the encounters between Isabel and poverty, the ironic narrator cannot be
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