Saturday, March 5, 2016

Howells monostich

~  the harvest of an all-perceiving eye  ~

Such was Van Wyck Brooks’ description of the literary output of W. D. Howells, for whom all was grist.  But it applies as well to Howells’ friend Henry James.
For that latter all-observer  and descriptional pack-rat, cf. now the keenly perceptive essay of Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker for 18 Jan 2016, reviewing the novelist’s memoirs.

In that same work (New England: Indian Summer [1940]),  Brooks highlights a writer contemporary with those two, John De Forest, now little known, whom Howells long promoted in the pages of The Atlantic, where several of that Civil War veteran’s novels ran serially.   Brooks credits him likewise with a wide eye, in a similar (though differently cadenced) pentameter:

~  a panoramic eye for American manners  ~

It proved (in Brooks’ assessment) to be a bit too panoramic for the largely feminine audience of the day, and the writer eventually fell silent.  “In a world in which women decided the fate of books, the odds were all against this virile writer.”  By contrast, Howells and James  sedulously cultivated that readership.


There is seeing, and there is (merely) reading:
for the latter, in this perspective of “All is Grist”, cf.

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