Henry Blake Fuller Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.