Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Florence. Northern Italian city noted as a center of great artistic and architectural works that the young American architect Theodore Colville visited during his youth. After becoming a journalist in a midwestern town, Colville, has sold his newspaper and returned to Florence twenty years later. At forty-one, he is unlikely to resume his early vocation, but he fails to recapture any of the vitality of his earlier experience in Florence. He proposed, unsuccessfully, to a young woman during his first visit to Florence; now he is still a bachelor and tries to win a woman less than half his age.

Florence is the home of Lina Bowen, a former friend and confidant of the woman he sought earlier, but now a widow with a young daughter. Florence has also attracted a young American woman for whom Mrs. Bowen is acting as a chaperone. W. D. Howells uses this novel as a variant on the theme of American “innocents abroad” that interested Howells’s literary friends Mark Twain and Henry James in their distinctive ways. Whereas James typically focused on young American women at risk at the hands of worldly wise Europeans, Howells makes Colville—not a young woman—his central character. Colville persists in an inexcusable attempt to recover the romance of his earlier visit to Italy at the expense of Mrs. Bowen. Although he finally proposes marriage to Miss Graham, it is a selfish act that in effect is a kind of seduction. He agrees to...

(The entire section is 598 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Eble, Kenneth. William Dean Howells. 2d ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982. A chronological assessment of Howells’ fiction. In the chapter focusing on Indian Summer and the 1888 novel April Hopes, Eble ranks the former among Howells’ most successful dramatizations of the folly of a romantic-sentimental outlook.

Howells, William Dean. Indian Summer. Vol. 11 in A Selected Edition of William Dean Howells. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1971. The standard edition of the novel with introduction and notes by Scott Bennett, who counters the often-express view of Indian Summer as an exercise in nostalgia and argues that the novel reflects Howells’ full artistic maturity.

Wagenknecht, Edward. William Dean Howells: The Friendly Eye. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. No sustained discussion of Indian Summer but shrewd observations on the novel in many references. Wagenknecht notes, for example, that the novel contradicts Howells’ critical disapproval of violence in fiction by resolving the hero’s love affair through the medium of a carriage accident.

Woodress, James J., Jr. Howells and Italy. New York: Greenwood Press, 1952. Assesses Indian Summer as a neatly plotted minor masterpiece, though unrepresentative of Howells’ work generally. Woodress emphasizes the correlation between the author’s fiction and his own Italian experiences, as well as his skill at evoking the Italian setting in Indian Summer.

Wright, Nathalia. American Novelists in Italy: The Discoverers—Allston to James. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1965. Discusses a succession of nineteenth century novelists and gives considerable attention to Howells’ Italian novels. Views Indian Summer as reflecting his tendency to emphasize that Europe exerted a more pernicious influence on American men than on American women.