Thursday, December 15, 2011

“Mr. Charles W. Chestnuttt’s Stories.” By W.D. Howells. This critical essay was published in the Atlantic Monthly by the Houghton, Mifflin and Company in 1900. Howells was a well known and respected writing during this time so his opinion about other writers was took in to consideration.
Luckily for Chestnuttt, Howells enjoyed his writing and praised story call The Wife of his Youth. Howells was impressed with how Chestnuttt was able to write about race. “The first was the novelty of the material; for the writer dealt not only with people who were not white, but with people who were not black enough to contrast grotesquely with white people, -- who in fact were of that near approach to the ordinary American in race and color which leaves, at the last degree, everyone but the connoisseur in doubt whether they are Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-African.” Howells is impressed with how Chestnuttt was able to write about race in a different light. He was able to “master” the characteristics of certain races.
Howell sees Chestnutt as a good artist. Impressed with The Wife of his Youth, Howells does give praise to his other works as well. “But the volumes of fiction are remarkable above many, above most short stories by people entirely white, and would be worthy of unusual notice if they were not the work of a man not entirely white.” African American writers did not have the same audience or respect as white writers. For Howells to state something like this it will help Chestnutt gain respect for his work and craft in hopes people will look past his race.
Howells expresses how some inexperienced writers often have simplistic work, that it is missing beauty and detail. They have lack of a voice in their writing and their “diction is journalistic, reporteristic.” Chestnutt however does not. He is the “exception.” He knows his audience and how to write gracefully and write in great depth.
Howells enjoys the reality Chestnutt brings to his writing. He is able to show the similarities between whites and black. “He has not shown the dwellers there as very different from ourselves. They have within their own circles the same social ambitions and prejudices; they intrigue and truckle and crawl, and are snobs, like ourselves, both of the snobs that snub and the snobs that are snubbed. “ By writing about the dynamic relationships in black society he opens the eyes of whites to see blacks as more than two dimensional.
Howell’s praise and criticism of his audience that will not read Chestnutt due to his race is complimentary and will help Chestnutt become more popular. “He has sounded a fresh note, boldly, not blatantly, and he has won the ear of the more intelligent public. “

Thursday, December 8, 2011

William Dean Howells

Dean Howells

Howell’s had a very interesting,
while very philosophical view on what society viewed as “art”. This is very apparent in William Dean
Howell’s “Criticism and Fiction”. In the very first page Howell’s tries to put
into words where the masses generally go wrong in deciding what constitutes as
art, and gives us his own views on the subject.

“That is to
say, as I understand, that moods and tastes and fashions change; people fancy
now this and now that; but what is unpretentious and what is true is always beautiful
and good, and nothing else is so. This is not saying that fantastic and
monstrous and artificial things do not please; everybody knows that they do
please immensely for a time, and then, after the lapse of a much longer time,
they have the charm of the rococo”

Here Howell’s is making a very
interesting critical point on the way that art has on us. He is basically
saying that while some things that are pleasing to us may be art, but being
pleasurable is not a necessary condition.
Howell’s seems to liken his opinion to Keats’s quote, and work “Beauty
is Truth, Truth is Beauty”. This really does outline Howell’s idea of beauty in
writing, seeing as William Howell’s was a realist writer. If he did find beauty
in truth than he is consistent with that in his writing. Realism portrays the
realistic side of life, in which Howell’s found everything worthwhile.

“I should,
indeed, prefer another line of Keats's, if I were to profess any formulated
creed, and should feel much safer with his "Beauty is Truth, Truth
Beauty," than even with my friend's reformation of the more quoted verse.”

Howell’s critical view extends
further into the realm of philosophy upon talking about the common man.
Howell’s claims that the common man has all the power he wants within his
grasp, if only he had the courage and strength to use it. Again we can see this
view consistent with his work such as The Rise of Silas Lapham. Howell’s
rejects anything that is of the ideal nature, claiming that most things are
simple, and natural. He even goes so far to say that those who are excellent
gentlemen are not interesting. In modern terms it seems Howell’s is claiming
that people that are so incredibly “book smart” are not real enough for him.
This view seems a bit condescending for Howell’s; who wants to give power to
the common man.

“As I said, I
hope the time is coming when not only the artist, but the common, average man,
who always "has the standard of the arts in his power," will have
also the courage to apply it, and will reject the ideal grasshopper wherever he
finds it, in science, in literature, in art, because it is not "simple,
natural, and honest," because it is not like a real grasshopper.”

Often Howell would write criticism
about the way critics go about reviewing a piece of literature. Howell believed
that criticism itself derives from the readers inability to accept the piece
for what it is. That the reader almost has his mind set on not enjoying
whatever it is being read. He claims that in order to be effective critics we
must take into account why it is the writer chooses to go about his or her work
in such a manner. We would need to think of every choice the writer makes a
very deliberate one, granting him or her many courtesies. Howell’s says “The
critic must perceive, if he will question himself more carefully, that his
office is mainly to ascertain facts and traits of literature, not to invent or
denounce them; to discover principles, not to establish them; to report, not to
create.” This seems that Howell’s seems to think that many critics take too
many liberties with their work, which could easily be true.

Howell’s had a very unique approach to his literary critics.
He believed basically that literary criticisms were worthless, and critics
themselves were in no way essential to the progress of literature.

“I would beseech the
literary critics of our country to disabuse themselves of the mischievous
notion that they are essential to the progress of literature in the way critics
have imagined.”

would seem that Howell’s believed that reading fictional literature that’s sole
purpose it merely to entertain is basically good for nothing. He says that we
are fooled into thinking that this literature is good because it is pleasurable
to read. Howell’s takes a very strong stance on this topic, as it seems to make
him very passionate. He grants that these novels are able to take a readers
mind and remove it from their head, but in this is the problem.

“There is a certain
demand in primitive natures for the kind of fiction that does this, and the
author of it is usually very proud of it. The kind of novels he likes, and
likes to write, are intended to take his reader's mind, or what that reader
would probably call his mind, off himself; they make one forget life and all its
cares and duties; they are not in the least like the novels which make you
think of these, and shame you into at least wishing to be a helpfuller and
wholesomer creature than you are”

William Dean Howell’s was a hell of
a lot more philosophical than I originally thought. His ideas on literary
criticism make a lot of sense to those willing to listen. His own take on this
matter helps explain his realistic writing style, and gives insight as to how
he would react to critics who did not exactly enjoy his work. He brings up
issues with literary critics and offers insight into how he would criticize, or
rather his likes and dislikes in literature. Although many probably would not
agree with his outlook on fictional literature to such a strong degree he does
make good points.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Theodore Dreiser’s Thoughts of Mark Twain

Herman Theodore Dreiser was born on August 27, 1871 in Terre Haute, Indiana to Sarah and Johann Dreiser. He was the ninth of ten surviving children. His father had come to America from Mayen, Germany in 1844. He traveled to Dayton, Ohio, where he met his wife, Sarah. The couple was forced to elope due to religious differences between their families. They moved to Indiana where Johann worked as a wool dealer. As Dreiser later recorded in his memoirs, the family never recovered financially or psychologically from an economic fall from grace after a fire at the wool mill left his father injured.

Although Dreiser was a serious student, he never managed to finish high school. Eventually he moved to Chicago and worked numerous jobs to support his suffering family until Mildred Fielding (a former schoolteacher) rescued him from his plight. She paid his tuition for one year so he could attend Indiana University. He then worked as a journalist for the Chicago Globe and other various newspapers. In 1898 Dreiser married Sara Osborne White. With her encouragement Dreiser began writing his historic first novel, Sister Carrie. It is suspected that the novel was based on his own sister’s affair with a married man who had run off with funds embezzled from his Chicago employer.

Dreiser took Sister Carrie to the Doubleday Company to have it published. Frank Doubleday refused to have the book published under his company name because he and his wife thought it was immoral and it was repulsive to have a main character represent a “fallen” woman. The book was eventually published by Doubleday after much protest from Dreiser and his lawyers. Dreiser began writing a second novel, Jennie Gerhardt. Only five months after he started to write the novel he suffered from severe writers block and a nervous breakdown. Dreiser claimed it was on account of the attempted overthrow of Sister Carrie.

In October of 1935 Dreiser published a piece in The English Journal titled “Mark the Double Twain.” The piece discusses whether we should view Twain as a humorous writer or as an “amazingly pessimistic thinker.” Dreiser is quoted as saying “A psychological as well as literary enigma that has much troubled me, as it has many another who has surveyed American literature, is Mark Twain.” Dreiser continues to question Twain’s real intentions within his stories. Is he there to present an actual critical philosophy or just to spin his negative thoughts in a witty way to win over senseless American readers who do not know any better?

In the following quote Dreiser really sums up what he believes all Twain’s stories are about.

“Middle West American of quite humble Tennessee and Missouri village and farm backgrounds- with a few parent and relative owned slaves to complicate the picture. He remains to this hour, in the minds of most Americans, not the powerful and original and amazingly pessimistic thinker that he really was, and that several of his most distinguish contributions to American letters prove- but rather, to this hour, the incorrigible and prolific joker and at best, humorist who, up to the time of his death and since, has kept the world chuckling so continuously that it has not, not even now sobered sufficiently to detect in him the gloomy and wholly mechanistic thinker.”

Dreiser then compares Twain to Jacques Loeb who was one of the most prominent scientists in America in the late 1800’s. Twain had written an essay titled “Dr. Loeb’s Incredible Discovery” which urges the reader not to support a firm general compromise, but instead be open to new scientific advances. Dreiser once again questions who Twain was as a writer. “But how came this to be? Were there two Twain’s from the beginning?”

Works Cited: