Henry Blake Fuller Essay - Critical Essays

Fuller, Henry Blake


Henry Blake Fuller 1857-1929

(Also wrote under the pseudonym Stanton Page) American novelist, playwright, essayist, and short story writer.

Best-known for his novels focusing on turn-of-the-century Chicago, Fuller is remembered as one of the pioneers of realism in American literature. His novels and short stories often explored the differences between America and Europe. As a result, his work was frequently compared to that of authors such as Henry James and William Dean Howells.

Biographical Information

Fuller was born on 9 January, 1857 in Chicago, Illinois. His family was a proud, old New England family. As a young man he disliked the commercial aspect of Chicago and when he was old enough, he attended the Allison Classical Academy in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. By 1875 he returned to Chicago and worked in a crockery store and a bank. In 1879 he made a pilgrimage to Europe, traveling for a year before returning to Chicago. Returning to Europe in 1883, he began to compose sketches, stories, and essays exploring the differences between America and Europe, which would become a recurring theme in his work. When his father died in 1885, Fuller was forced to return to Chicago. While managing his father's business investments, he wrote The Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani (1891), which garnered commercial and critical success. He continued to write novels, essays, sketches, and stories set in Chicago and Italy. He died on 28 July 1929.

Major Works

The Cliff-Dwellers (1893) and With the Procession (1895) are Fuller's most highly regarded novels. Set in Chicago, both stories explore the empty lives of several characters that strive for material success and ignore art, beauty, and culture. In The Cliff-Dwellers, George Ogden, an ambitious young banker, rises through the ranks to achieve economic prosperity and social acceptance. Unfortunately, the pressure of this life prompts him to steal money from his bank, thereby precipitating his ultimate downfall. With the Procession chronicles the unsuccessful attempt of the once-proud Marshall family as they struggle to regain social prominence. As several characters scheme to become more socially acceptable or maintain their elite position in Chicago society, they lose their souls, spirituality, and individuality. Both of these novels are considered prime examples of American realism because they focus on the lives of ordinary characters and provide an unsparing look at the conditions and repercussions of life in industrial-age Chicago.

Critical Reception

Fuller is often praised for his skill as a realist and a satirist, especially with his best-known novels, The Cliff-Dwellers and With the Procession. He is viewed as a pioneer of the realist movement in America. Many critics view his unsparing depiction of socially ambitious people striving for material success at the expense of art and culture as the author's protest against the lack of beauty and spiritual life in industrialized Chicago. Yet he is also derided as a snob for his harsh indictment of life in turn-of-the-century Chicago. Fuller is compared to Henry James for his novels and short stories featuring materialistic American characters traveling in cultured, sophisticated Europe. As Fuller's work has fallen into relative obscurity, a few scholars have unfavorably compared his work with that of his contemporaries, such as Hamlin Garland, William Dean Howells, Theodore Dreiser, and Frank Norris.

Principal Works

The Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani [as Stanton Page] (novel) 1891

The Châtelaine of La Trinité (novel) 1892

The Cliff-Dwellers (novel) 1893

With the Procession (novel) 1895

The Puppet-Booth (sketches) 1896

From the Other Side (short stories) 1898

The Last Refuge (short stories) 1900

Under the Skylights (short stories) 1901

Waldo Trench and Others (short stories) 1908

Lines Long and Short (poetry) 1917

On the Stairs (novel) 1918

Bertram Cope's Year (novel) 1919

Gardens of This World (novel) 1930

Not on the Screen (novel) 1930


Agnes Repplier (essay date 1892)

SOURCE: “A By-Way in Fiction,” in Essays in Miniature, Charles L. Webster & Co., 1892, pp. 87-103.

[In the following mixed review of The Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani, Repplier regards the novel as “a series of detached episodes” that “rambles backward and forward in such a bewildering fashion that the chapters might be all rearranged without materially disturbing its slender thread of continuity.”]

Now and then the wearied and worn novel-reader, sick unto death of books about people's beliefs and disbeliefs, their conscientious scruples and prejudices, their unique aspirations and misgivings, their cumbersome vices and virtues, is recompensed for much suffering by an hour of placid but genuine enjoyment. He picks up rather dubiously a little, unknown volume, and, behold! the writer thereof takes him gently by the hand, and leads him straightway into a fair country, where the sun is shining, and men and women smile kindly on him, and nobody talks unorthodox theology, and everybody seems disposed to allow everybody else the privilege of being happy in his own way. When to these admirable qualities are added humor and an atmosphere of appreciative cultivation, the novel-reader feels indeed that his lines have been cast in pleasant places, and he is disposed to linger along in a very contented and uncritical frame of mind.

There has come to us recently a new and beautiful edition of such a little book, published in America, but born of Italian soil and sunshine. It has for a title The Chevalier of Pensicri-Vani, together with Frequent Allusions to the Prorege of Arcopia, which is rather an unmerciful string of words to describe so gay and easy-going a narrative. It is the first full-fledged literary venture of its author, Mr. Henry Fuller, also known as Stanton Page, whose New England grandfather was a cousin of Margaret Fuller's. The story, which is not really a story at all, but a series of detached episodes, rambles backward and forward in such a bewildering fashion that the chapters might be all rearranged without materially disturbing its slender thread of continuity. It is equally guiltless of plot or purpose, of dramatic incidents or realistic details. The Chevalier may be found now in Pisa, now in Venice, now in Ostia or Ravenna, never driven by the vulgar spur of necessity, always wandering of his own free and idle will. He is accompanied sometimes by his friend Hors-Concours, an Italianized Frenchman from Savoy, and sometimes by the Prorege of Arcopia, the delightful Prorege, who gives to the book its best and most distinctive flavor. At once dignified and urbane, conscious of his exalted position, and convinced that he fills it with equal grace and correctness, this superb official moves through the tale in an atmosphere of autocratic reserve, tempered with the most delicate courtesy. His ministerial views are as unalterable as the rocks, and as sound; but he listens to the democratic ravings of his young American protégé, Occident, with the good-humored indulgence one accords to a beloved and precocious child. It must be confessed that Occident fails to make his arguments very convincing, or to impress his own personality with any degree of clearness upon the reader's mind. He is at best only a convenient listener to the Prorege's delicious theories; he is of real value only because the Prorege condescends to talk to him. When he ventures upon a truly American remark about trying “to find the time” for something, his august friend reminds him, with dignity, that “the only man to be envied was the man whose time was in some degree his own, and the most pitiable object that civilization could offer was the rich man a slave to his chronometer. Too much had been said about the dignity of labor, and not enough about the preciousness of leisure. Civilization in its last outcome was heavily in the debt of leisure, and the success of any society worth considering was to be estimated largely by the use to which its fortunati had put their spare moments. He wrung from Occident the confession that, in the great land of which Shelby County may be called the centre, activity, considered of itself and quite apart from its objects and its results, was regarded as a very meritorious thing; and he learned that the bare figure of leisure, when exposed to the public gaze, was expected to be decorously draped in the garment of strenuous endeavor. People were supposed to appear busy, even if they were not. This gave the Prorege a text for a little disquisition on the difference between leisure and idleness.”

In fact, a beautiful, cultivated, polished, unmarred, well-spent inactivity is the keynote of this serene little book; and to understand its charm and meaning we have but to follow the Chevalier, in the second chapter, to Pisa—to Pisa the restful, where “life is not strongly accentuated by positive happenings, where incident is unusual, and drama quite unknown.” The Chevalier's windows, we are told, faced the north, and he sat and looked out of them rather more than active persons would deem pleasant or profitable. It even happened that the Prorege remarked this comfortable habit, and demanded of his friend what it was he looked at, inasmuch as there seemed to be no appreciable change from day to day. To which the Chevalier, in whom “Quietism was pretty successfully secularized; who knew how to sit still, and occasionally enjoyed doing so,” replied with great acumen that what had gone on was quite as interesting to him as what was going on, and that nothing was more gratifying, from his point of view, than that very absence of change which had taken his Excellency's attention—since any change would be a change for the worse.

He is destined, as it chances, to prove the truth of his own theories, for it is in Pisa, of all places, that he is tempted to throw aside for once his rôle of contemplative philosopher, and to assume that of an active philanthropist, with very disastrous results. There is an admirable satire in the description of the two friends, Pensieri-Vani and Hors-Concours, gravely plotting to insure the success of an operatic débutante, to bring her out in the sunshine of their generous patronage, and with the direct approval of the Prorege himself, who kindly consents to sit in the front of a middle box, and to wear a round half-dozen of his most esteemed decorations. Unhappily, an Italian audience does not like to have its enthusiasm expressed for it, even by such noble and consummate critics. As each well-arranged device of flowers or love-birds in a gilded cage is handed decorously forward, the house grows colder and more quizzical, until the débutante sees herself on the extreme verge of failure, and, putting forth all her powers in one appealing effort, she triumphs by dint of sheer pluck and ability over the fatal kindness of her friends. The poor Chevalier, who has in the meantime left the theatre with many bitter self-communings, receives his lesson in a spirit of touching humility, recognizing at once his manifest limitations. “He perceived that he was less fitted to play the part of special providence than he had previously...

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Floyd Dell (essay date 1913)

SOURCE: “Chicago in Fiction,” in The Bookman, Vol. XXXVIII, November 3, 1913, pp. 270-77.

[In the following essay, Dell contrasts Fuller's Chicago novels with those of Frank Norris and Robert Herrick.]


“Chicago,” wrote Frank Norris scornfully in one of his early tales, “is not a place where stories happen.” San Francisco was still large enough for his imagination—San Francisco, and the bay, and the ocean of piracy and adventure beyond, and on the other side of the city the great wheat fields of California. But the wheat, capturing his imagination, led him to Chicago, and in The Pit he undertook to prove himself wrong. He...

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The Bookman (essay date 1924)

SOURCE: “The Literary Spotlight, XXVII: Henry Blake Fuller,” in The Bookman, Vol. LVIII, No. 6, February, 1924, pp. 645-49.

[In the following essay, the anonymous critic surveys the reasons for Fuller's virtual obscurity amongst the American reading public.]

In a brilliant sentence wherein he gives us the character and temperament of the hero of his Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani Henry Blake Fuller also thus partly describes himself: “He was sufficient unto himself, exempt from the burdens of wealth, the chafings of domestic relations, the chains of affairs, the martyrdom of great ambition and the dwarfing provincialism that comes from a settled home.”...

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Charles C. Baldwin (essay date 1925)

SOURCE: “Henry Blake Fuller,” in The Men Who Make Our Novels, revised edition, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1925, pp. 190-94.

[In the following brief essay, Baldwin deems Fuller as “an amateur, a lover and appreciator of the beautiful rather than a craftsman with rolling eye and a passion for creation.”]

Were I the editor of a weekly review looking for the perfect reviewer to take charge of my literary department I should know that my quest was ended once Mr. Fuller had consented to act for me, for he is, in my opinion, as a man of letters, easily among the first of living Americans. He has scholarship and the best of good taste, charm and grace of style, wide...

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Victor Schultz (essay date 1929)

SOURCE: “Henry Blake Fuller: Civilized Chicagoan,” in The Bookman, Vol. LXX, No. 1, September, 1929, pp. 34-8.

[In the following essay, Schultz discusses the defining characteristics of Fuller's novels.]

There was in Chicago until this year an old man, born there in 1857, who was hailed by Huneker as his master, who was described by another as among the first of living American men of letters, who wrote one recognized masterpiece and influenced a whole school of modern writers. And yet when he died at the end of July his books were out of print, they are to be found only on the older shelves of the public libraries, and few people know anything about him or them....

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Harriet Monroe (essay date 1929)

SOURCE: “Comment: Henry B. Fuller,” in Poetry, Vol. 35, No. 1, October, 1929, pp. 34-41.

[In the following essay, Monroe offers personal reminiscences of Fuller and an assessment of his literary career.]

The editor's return in early August, just in time to prepare our seventeenth-birthday number, was saddened by news of the passing of Henry B. Fuller, who died on Sunday, July 28th, in the seventy-third year of his age. Poetry has always been deeply indebted to this distinguished member of its advisory committee, who shrank from any acknowledgment of his loyal service.

Urbanity, gentleness, politeness, humor both searching and kind, sensitiveness,...

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Donald M. Murray (essay date 1953)

SOURCE: “Henry B. Fuller: Friend of Howells,” in The South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. LII, 1953, pp. 431-44.

[In the following essay, Murray unfavorably compares Fuller's literary career to that of William Dean Howells.]

One of the pleasantest ways to absorb American literary history in the barren stretch from 1865 to the turn of the century is to read the letters of William Dean Howells. The man was keenly alive to literary and social forces; as editor and novelist he was himself shaping American writing. His letters have charm, not the cool elegance of James or the rowdy virility of Mark Twain, but a warm, human urbanity and an admirable sanity. Above all, he is...

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Elwood P. Lawrence (essay date 1954)

SOURCE: “Fuller of Chicago: A Study in Frustration,” in American Quarterly, Vol. VI, No. 2, Summer, 1954, pp. 137-46.

[In the following essay, Lawrence explores autobiographical aspects of Fuller's life, in particular his personal and professional frustrations.]

Henry B. Fuller who died in 1929, is now only a footnote in the history of American writing, but in the 1890's, on the strength of The Cliff-Dwellers and With the Procession, he was hailed by critics as the rising star of Midwestern realism. The decline of his reputation was even more spectacular than this suggests, for by 1900 he was already being referred to by some critics as “the late...

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Darrel Abel with Henry Fuller (essay date 1957)

SOURCE: “Howells or James?” edited by Darrel Abel, in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. III, No. 2, Summer, 1957, pp. 159-64.

[In the following essay, Abel introduces Fuller's essay, maintaining that it documents Fuller's early inclination toward realism.]

The paper by Henry Blake Fuller which is here published for the first time1 was apparently completed in 1885.2 By this date William Dean Howells, who at the outset of his fictional career had been classified as an “idyllist” and romancer, was now explicitly committed to realism, and had acknowledged Henry James to be the leader of a new American school of realistic novelists. Howells called...

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Mark Harris (essay date 1965)

Source: An introduction to With the Procession, by Henry B. Fuller, The University of Chicago Press, 1965, pp. v-xiv.

[In the following introduction to With the Procession, Harris considers the role of the American dream in Fuller's novel.]

Shall we be consoled by the idea that the luxurious misery of the principal persons of With the Procession is the continuing misery of American society—was and will be with us forever—or shall we renew our indignation that such a country was ever begun? The events which pained Henry Blake Fuller, seeming to motivate the composition of this novel, pain us now. His lament is ours.

On the other hand,...

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Edmund Wilson (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: “Two Neglected American Novelists: I—Henry B. Fuller, The Art of Making It Flat,” in The New Yorker, May 23, 1970, pp. 112-39.

[In the following essay, Wilson provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of Fuller's work.]

The nineties and the early nineteen-hundreds, when looked at from the later decades, are likely to seem a dim period in American literature. The quality and the content of the fiction were mainly determined by the magazines that aimed to please a feminine public. There were writers of great reputation whom no one except the literary historian would think of looking into today. But there did exist also—outsold and outpublicized—a kind...

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Guy Szuberla (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: “Making the Sublime Mechanical: Henry Blake Fuller's Chicago,” in American Studies, Vol. XIV, No. 1, Spring, 1973, pp. 83-93.

[In the following essay, Szuberla examines Fuller's use of the urban modern landscape in The Cliff-Dwellers and With the Procession.]

“We need Nature,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote in a journal entry, “and cities give the human senses not room enough.”1 That cities stifle the human senses has seemed a self-evident truth for a diverse number of American thinkers. This commonplace of agrarian thought, expressed by Jefferson, Henry Adams, Frederick Jackson Turner and others, reinforces the native notion that...

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Park Dixon Goist (essay date 1977)

SOURCE: “The City as Noncommunity: Theodore Dreiser and Henry Blake Fuller,” in From Main Street to State Street: Town, City, and Community in America, Kennikat Press, 1977, pp. 68-79.

[In the following essay, Goist explores the ideas of community and individuality in the Chicago novels of Fuller and Theodore Dreiser.]

Though he lived in cities and even wrote one “urban novel,” Hamlin Garland remained essentially a writer of the frontier or middle border. But the locale of his one effort at city fiction has been the focal point of a good deal of novelistic effort. At the turn of the nineteenth century two of the outstanding novelists of Chicago were Theodore...

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Guy Szuberla (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: “Henry Blake Fuller and the ‘New Immigrant’,” in American Literature, Vol. 53, No. 2, May, 1981, pp. 246-65.

[In the following essay, Szuberla traces Fuller's attitude toward immigration and the idea of the American “melting pot” in his life and work.]

Like many of his contemporaries, Henry Blake Fuller (1857-1929) frequently paired his ideas and his fears of the “new immigrant” with the spectre of a declining or dispossessed “native American stock.” Much like Henry James in The American Scene, he pondered what it meant, and what it would mean, “to share the sanctity of his American consciousness, the intimacy of his American...

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Sue Morton (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: “Italy as an Ideal: Henry B. Fuller's The Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani,” in Italian Americana, Vol. VII, No. 1, Fall-Winter, 1981, pp. 75-88.

[In the following essay, Morton discusses Fuller's conceptions of culture and civilization as evinced in The Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani.]

Henry Blake Fuller, a talented writer from Chicago, initially gained recognition in the 1890s with his first book-length work, The Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani. This travel-fiction book set in Italy drew the praise of important Italianists like Charles Eliot Norton and James Russell Lowell, and their praise helped to secure a hearing for Fuller from American publishers and...

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William D. Burns (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: “The Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani: Henry Fuller's Not-So-Elusive Anatomy,” in Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, Vol. 50, No. 2, 1996, pp. 147-63.

[In the following essay, Burns underscores the ironic and satirical voice in Fuller's The Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani.]

Satire is a sort of Glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's Face but their Own; which is the chief reason for that kind Reception it meets in the world, and that so very few are offended with it.

Jonathan Swift

The Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani creates some interesting...

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Joel Conarroe (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: “Seven Types of Ambiguity,” in The New York Times Book Review, August 9, 1998, p. 13.

[In the following review of a new edition of Bertram Cope's Year, Conarroe deems Fuller's novel an entertaining and worthwhile read.]

Nobody asks, and Bertram Cope certainly doesn't tell. The result? No fewer than six people, representing both sexes and various ages and backgrounds, make a Midwestern university's newly arrived instructor the object of their affection—or, more accurately, of their “longing admiration.” This unwitting heartbreaker even manages an accidental engagement to one especially ardent member of the infatuated sextet, and nearly commits...

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Further Reading


Silet, Charles L. P. Henry B. Fuller and Hamlin Garland: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1976, pp. 1-53.

Chronological listing of secondary writings about Fuller and his work.

Swanson, Jeffrey. “A Checklist of the Writings of Henry Blake Fuller (1857-1929).” American Literary Realism 7, No. 3 (Summer 1974): 211-43.

Categorizes Fuller's writings by genre.


Bowron, Bernard R., Jr. Henry B. Fuller of Chicago: The Ordeal of a Genteel Realist in Ungenteel America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1974, 278 p.


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