Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
William Dean Howells was born at Martinsville (Martins Ferry), in Belmont County, Ohio, on March 1, 1837, the second child of William Cooper Howells and Mary Dean Howells. When Howells was three, the family moved to Hamilton, Ohio, where Howells’s father operated a printing business and published a newspaper, the Intelligencer. In 1849, his father’s business failed, and the family moved to Dayton, Ohio.
The move to Dayton brought to a close Howells’s formal education. At the age of seven, he had begun helping his father by setting type and delivering papers, and as the family’s financial condition worsened both Howells and his older brother were forced to drop out of school. Although he always regretted that he had not been able to attend school, Howells believed that his association with the printing trade, and the fact that his father read to the family whenever possible, made up in part for his lack of formal education.
The Dayton business failed in 1850, and the family moved to Greene County, Ohio. While Howells’s father and brother attempted to revive an old paper mill, the Howells family lived in a log cabin on a stream near the town of Xenia. Years later, Howells wrote about the experience in My Year in a Log Cabin (1893). When efforts to revive the paper mill failed, the family moved to Columbus....
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
As an editor and a literary critic, Howells exerted a profound influence on the course of American literature. Even so, his place in literature rests ultimately on his work as a novelist. Writing in a style that H. L. Mencken called “a new harmony of the old, old words” and following the principles Howells himself laid down in numerous works on the craft of writing realistic fiction, he created a body of literature that provides the best insights into and most penetrating analyses of the social and economic structure of the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century. While much of what Howells wrote is marked by somewhat archaic preoccupations, the serious reader may still discover in Howells’s work the kind of novels which, in Howells’s words, can “charm the mind and win the heart.”
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
William Dean Howells was born in Martinsville (now Martins Ferry), Ohio, on March 1, 1837, and he received much of his early education in the Hamilton printing office of his father’s Intelligencer before working on the Ohio State Journal from 1858 to 1861. His campaign biography of President Abraham Lincoln earned him an appointment as United States consul in Venice (1861-1865). In 1861 he married Elinor Mead, and they had three children, Winifred (born 1863), John (1868), and Mildred (1872). After his return from Venice, Howells moved to Boston, where he lived until 1888, when he moved to New York City.
Howells was one of the most distinguished men of letters in his day and a close friend of other notables, such as Henry James and Mark Twain, many of whom he wrote about in Literary Friends and Acquaintances (1900) and My Mark Twain (1910). In his criticism, he championed a realistic approach to fiction but a realism too genteel for some critics, like the naturalistic novelist Frank Norris. The high esteem of the world of letters was reflected in a seventy-fifth birthday gala held for him, with President William Howard Taft attending.
Howells consistently displayed a social conscience. He angered a great many influential people by his vigorous defense of the Haymarket anarchists in 1887, and he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Although early in his career he was accepted into the charmed literary circles of Boston and New York, William Dean Howells was born and reared in the Midwest, and he never fully lost touch with his midwestern background. He was born on March 1, 1837, in Martin’s Ferry (then Martinsville), Ohio, the second of eight children. His early life was singularly unstable: Because his father was something of a political radical whose principles jeopardized the prosperity of every newspaper with which he was associated, the family was periodically compelled to move away from one conservative Ohio village after another. Despite such instability, Howells found the variety of experiences enriching and was able to make the most of the spotty formal education he received.
Howells’s exposure to the written word came at an early age: When Howells was only three, his father moved the little family to Hamilton, Ohio, where he had acquired a local newspaper, the Intelligencer; by the age of six, the precocious Howells was setting type in his father’s printing office, and not long after that he began to compose poems and brief sketches. In 1850, the family made one of their more fortunate moves by establishing themselves in a one-room log cabin in the utopian community at Eureka Mills near Xenia, Ohio. It was a welcome interlude in the family’s struggle to find a political, economic, and social niche that would satisfy the father, and Howells would remember...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
In the three decades between the 1960’s and the 1980’s, William Dean Howells basically was shut out of literary research and literature courses. The 1990’s, however, saw a return of interest in Howells’s life and works. Contemporary readers and critics admire Howells not only for the sheer quantity of his works but also for his political consistency as a social critic. He was the only writer who publicly protested the persecution of the accused of the Haymarket incident in 1886, for example.
Howells was a prolific and versatile author of novels, plays, essays, poems, reviews, and travel pieces. He achieved a remarkable degree of success in consistently expressing himself with ease, exactness, and felicity. Furthermore, his long connection with The Atlantic Monthly and other important publications enabled him to encourage some potentially able writers to whom an editor’s approval could make a great difference. The list of struggling authors thus benefited would be a long one, including such notables-to-be as Mark Twain and Henry James, both of whom received Howells’s endorsement at times when it was needed most.
Howells was born on March 1, 1837, at Martinsville (now Martins Ferry), Ohio. His father, William Cooper Howells, was of Welsh descent, a former Quaker who had drifted into the “New Church” of Emanuel...
(The entire section is 1129 words.)