Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 491
Edgar Watson Howe was born in 1853 in Treaty, Indiana, where his father, Henry Howe, farmed and preached. In 1856, the family moved to Fairview, in Harrison County, Missouri. During the Civil War, Henry Howe, who was an abolitionist, organized Union Army volunteers. In 1863, wounded in battle and unable...
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Edgar Watson Howe was born in 1853 in Treaty, Indiana, where his father, Henry Howe, farmed and preached. In 1856, the family moved to Fairview, in Harrison County, Missouri. During the Civil War, Henry Howe, who was an abolitionist, organized Union Army volunteers. In 1863, wounded in battle and unable to farm, he moved the family to Bethany, Missouri, where he took over publishing the Weekly Union newspaper, renaming it Union of States. Henry Howe temporarily deserted his family in 1865.
E. W. Howe worked for a number of newspapers. His brother James got him a job at the North Missourian in Gallatin. Later, Howe moved to the DeKalb County Register, then the Saint Joseph Herald. He returned to Bethany when his mother died in December, 1868. His father, who had returned by that time, took the family to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where E. W. Howe wrote for the Nonpareil. From there, Howe moved to Omaha, Nebraska, to write for the Republican, and there he met William Dorsey, with whom he traveled through Wyoming and Utah. In Salt Lake City, they worked for Brigham Young’s newspaper. Eventually, Howe went to Falls City, Nebraska, to write for the Nemaha Valley Journal. In 1873, he married Clara Frank, with whom he had four sons. The same year, Howe and Dorsey went to Denver, Colorado, to write for the Rocky Mountain News. Later that year, they bought the Golden, Colorado Eagle and renamed it the Globe. When that paper failed in 1875, Howe returned to Falls City and began a second Globe, which later merged with its competitor to form the Globe-Journal. In 1877, Howe sold the Falls City paper and began a third Globe in Atchison, Kansas. This paper printed three-line items rather than fully developed stories, and it often angered readers by exposing scandals. Although the Atchison Daily Globe became the best-known American single sheet, Howe eventually tired of small-town journalism.
An avid theatergoer since the time he had lived in Saint Joseph, Howe read Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield (1849-1850) in 1882 and decided to try writing fiction. Although he was a prolific writer, only his first novel was successful. Set in the Middle Western Twin Mountains, The Story of a Country Town is noteworthy in American literature for its small-town realism. He was among the first to denigrate frontier life and portray the Midwest less in the tradition of the American Dream than in the grimness of its daily order. For these qualities, he belongs in the same category as Hamlin Garland and Edgar Lee Masters, and he was appreciated by Mark Twain and William Dean Howells. The story itself, revealing conjugal betrayal in three families, is still overpowering, although its undercurrent of male sexual repression reads like a document of social psychology.
Howe published several other novels and two books of essays, but he was successful chiefly in his biting journalism. In 1911, he established E. W. Howe’s Monthly. Howe died in 1937 at the age of eighty-four.