(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Indian Summer, Howells’s last international novel, was written after the author and his family revisited Italy after his resignation from The Atlantic Monthly. The novel’s title and tone reflect the nostalgic mood the visit produced in Howells. Set in Italy against a background of scenes taken from Howells’s Tuscan Cities (1885), Indian Summer is the story of middle-aged bachelor Theodore Colville’s romantic involvement with two women, one his own age and the other much younger.

The principal theme of the book is the January and May romance between Colville and the younger woman, Imogene Graham. A number of the themes which preoccupy Howells in his other fiction also appear in the novel. The relationship between motive and consequences, for example, is touched on as Colville and the Reverend Waters, a chorus character, discuss the moral implications of Colville’s involvement with Imogene. Waters concludes: “In the moral world we are responsible only for the wrong that we intend.”

Howells’s principal preoccupation, however, is with the dangers of sentimentalism, particularly the kind gleaned from popular novels. This danger is emphasized as the romance between Colville and Imogene Graham develops. Imogene, who is under the spell of the sentimental novels, suffers from the illusion that the ideas she had derived from poems and novels can be applied to the real situations. Imagining that she has...

(The entire section is 571 words.)

Indian Summer Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Theodore Colville studies architecture as a young man and continues his professional education by spending some months in Italy. While there, he goes about with two young women. He falls in love with one of them, but the woman rejects his suit. Soon afterward, he goes back to the United States at the request of his older brother, who had recently purchased a newspaper. Colville becomes the editor of his brother’s paper and eventually purchases it. He enters politics in his fortieth year. After being defeated, he leaves his home in Indiana and returns to Italy.

Colville tries to resume the study of architecture but is diverted after meeting Mrs. Bowen, who was the companion he did not fall in love with in Italy years before. Mrs. Bowen, now a widow, invites Colville to visit at her home. Colville meets Mrs. Bowen’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Effie, who quickly becomes fond of him, as well as Imogene Graham, a twenty-year-old American woman Mrs. Bowen is chaperoning.

Colville spends many pleasant days and evenings with Mrs. Bowen, Imogene, and Effie. At first, Imogene regards him as an old man, since he is twice her age, but she soon realizes that she enjoys his company much more than that of many men her own age. In an effort to be companionable with her, Colville dances and goes about socially as he did not do for many years. Mrs. Bowen also enjoys Colville’s company.

Mrs. Bowen chooses carefully the places where she and her charges go. During the carnival season, she permits Colville to take them all to a masked ball. At the ball, little Effie becomes ill and has to be taken home unexpectedly. As a result, Imogene and Colville spend much of the evening together unchaperoned. They begin to realize their affection for each other.

Mrs. Bowen is quick to realize that a love affair is developing between them. She tactfully points out to Imogene the differences between her and the much older man. When she says, rather less tactfully, that she thinks Colville is only trying to be amusing, the girl reports the conversation to Colville. Hurt, he goes to Mrs. Bowen and talks with her, finally agreeing to her suggestion that for propriety’s sake he leave Florence. Because it is a weekend and Colville has insufficient funds to settle his hotel bill, he is forced to wait until the following Monday. By that time, Imogene decides that it is unfair to make him leave the city because of her. When she asks him to stay, he agrees to do so.

A few days later,...

(The entire section is 1025 words.)