Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New York City

*New York City. City in which the protagonist, Basil March, and his family settle early in the novel. March, who in his dislocation as in other respects resembles his creator, has come here to assume editorship of a magazine at a time when New York is replacing Boston as the literary capital of the nation. The specific settings are varied, but collectively they form the backdrop of the “new fortunes.” To March, New York, especially the borough of Manhattan, is the place of new professional opportunity.

To other characters, this largest of the American urban environments offers a variety of other opportunities and challenges. March’s wife Isabel compares New York unfavorably to Boston, their former home. To her it is too large and full of uncultivated and uncivilized newcomers, both native and foreign. To the fiery German socialist Lindau, who once taught March German, and whom March hires to review foreign literature for the magazine, New York provides an opportunity to associate with his fellow poor. Lindau views them as victims of the robber barons of the era and strives to undermine the power of the latter. The publisher of the magazine, a transplanted midwesterner named Dryfoos, is a boorish man for whom the big city is just the place to augment his already considerable fortune. In short, New York is a magnet drawing together people of all sorts and in the process exacerbating their inevitable social conflicts.

*Third Avenue Elevated

*Third Avenue Elevated. Section of Manhattan’s earliest rail transit system, the Third Avenue Line,...

(The entire section is 662 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cady, Edwin H. The Realist at War: The Mature Years, 1885-1920. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1958. An excellent source of autobiographical criticism. Traces parallels between Howells and Basil March. Uses events in Howells’ life to explain his fictional choices in this period.

Crowley, John W. “Howells in the Eighties: A Review of Criticism.” Emerson Society Quarterly: A Journal of the American Renaissance 32, no. 4 (1986): 253-277; 33, no. 1 (1987): 45-65. A fairly extensive annotated checklist of Howells’ criticism published between 1979 and 1986.

Kaplan, Ann. The Social Construction of American Realism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. An insightful study of representations of class within American realism. Includes a lengthy chapter about A Hazard of New Fortunes that examines the roles of the city and social difference in the novel.

Nettels, Elsa. Language, Race, and Social Class in Howells’ America. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1988. Examines Howells’ use of dialect and vernacular as markers of class and ethnicity. Analysis of the speech patterns of Lindau, Madison Woodburn, and the Dryfoos family are included.

Taylor, Walter F. “William Dean Howells and the Economic Novel.” In Critics on William Dean Howells, edited by Paul A. Eschholz. Coral Gables, Fla.: University of Miami Press, 1975. An early analysis of the novel and its economic implications. Contains a bibliography of other economic critiques.