Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Hazard of New Loves

It’s been a longstanding joke of my husband and I, that I know more about William Dean Howells than almost anyone who has never read him. The longest, most substantial, and most erudite chapter of his book is on Howells. He was working on Stephen Crane when we met, but quickly moved to the Howells chapter. I remember sitting on his futon in his apartment in a Somerville triple-decker, faint with hunger, dressed for a date, listening to him work out a reading of Sewell’s sermon on complicity in The Minister’s Charge. He would read a passage to me, ask me what I thought of it, refine my thoughts, connect them to his argument, refute me, and then move forward, painstakingly, carefully, to the next bit. I hugged my knees to my chest and wondered when we would ever get to eat dinner!

Still, I admired his tenacity—even his apparent ability to work through dinner, something I cannot do—and his ability to make an argument. I would contribute a thought about the significance of a word, a metaphor, the order of a list, and he could shape it into a larger picture about charity and complicity in the Gilded Age. And, of course, you know the end of the story already: Reader, I married him.

Nonetheless, I was not all that eager to read Howells. That chapter took a lot out of me. My mom and I called it the “howls” chapter since it seemed to cause us all such pain. But, when my book came out, my husband reminded me: when his book was published he read Mrs. Dalloway.* Now, that mine was out, I owed it to him to read Howells.

I loved A Hazard of New Fortunes so much, that I’m declaring it Howells week here at Fernham. A blogging experiment. Let’s see how it goes.

*I protested, meekly that he had not finished it. But, he replied, he read the first three-hundred pages, enough to get the gist. [Mrs. Dalloway is 296 pages long in the old paperback. Ed.]

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