William Dean Howells
What would you say you viewed as art? If you asked your friends, colleges, and family members what they view the same things as being “art”? Chances are the answer is no. In William Dean Howell’s “Criticism and Fiction” he describes his perplex and philosophical view on what he views as “art” compared to societies view.
His argument begins with him stating that opinions and trends change based on a person’s mood and taste, and fashions change, but what it is truly art will always be deeply beautiful and real. In other words things that are pleasing to the eye give us pleasure, but art doesn’t necessarily have to leave a pleasurable feeling. He also talks about fashion. If you looked through a fashion pictures from many years ago you’re going to agree that the fashion is ugly. Which leaves readers with the question, will people say that in 100 years when they see pictures of the way that we dressed? The ugly fashions are associated with beauty because of the lovely young girls who are wearing the ugly clothing.
He then starts talking about Keats’s line “Beauty is Truth, Truth is Beauty” this reflects Howell’s idea of writing, beauty in writing. Howell is considered to be realist writer, meaning he would have to find the beauty in truth to write a good story. Realism shows the realistic side of life, hence why it’s called realism. “He contended that Keats’s line should have read, ‘Some things of beauty are sometimes joys forever,’ and that any assertion beyond this was too hazardous”. Simply saying that sometimes the joy that something beautiful brings lasts forever, depending on your definition of beauty.
As you continue throughout the reading Howells talk about the common man. He states that man has thee power to achieve anything that they want. They just need the courage and strength, which directly relate to each other. Man needs the courage to get what he wants, and the strength to use that courage. This idea is consistently presented in his past works. Howells says that learning decays when it stands apart from the actual experience, he says this in confidence and claims that he could explain it to a scientist:
“I see that you are looking at a grasshopper there which you have found in the grass, and I suppose you intend to describe it. Now don’t waste your time and sin against culture in that way. I’ve got a grasshopper here, which has been evolved at considerable pains and expense out of the grasshopper in general; in fact, it’s a type. It’s made up of wire and card-board, very prettily painted in a conventional tint, and it’s perfectly indestructible. It isn’t very much like a real grasshopper, but it’s a great deal nicer, and it’s served to represent the notion of a grasshopper ever since man emerged from barbarism. You may say that it’s artificial. Well, it is artificial; but then it’s ideal too; and what you want to do is to cultivate the ideal. You’ll find the books full of my kind of grasshopper, and scarcely a trace of yours in any of them. The thing that you are proposing to do it commonplace; but if you say that it isn’t commonplace, for the very reason that it hasn’t been done before, you’ll have to admit that it’s photographic.”
This quote really describes the realistic writing that Howell’s creates. Making an artificial grasshopper is like a realistic story. The events don’t necessarily have to be true, but they have to be events that could happen. The grasshopper doesn’t have to be real, but it has to have the same characteristics of a real grasshopper. Finding the courage and the strength to believe in the artificial grasshopper and reject the ideal real grasshopper, no matter where he finds it. This day to Howells though is far in the future. Those who believe in the ideal grasshopper must die out before those who believe in the artificial grasshopper to take over. He finds the “followers” of the ideal grasshopper amusing, so until the day comes where the natural grasshopper is the focus he looks forward to meeting these people, whether he’s reading about them or their an actual person.
I just feel that all these really give a clear picture of the kind of writer that William Dean Howells is. He likes the true natural events. Things that could really happy, and the reaction that comes with these events. Which then describes why he is considered a realism writer.