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.)