By Phillip Barrish
Targeting key works of late-nineteenth and early- twentieth-century American literary realism, Phillip Barrish strains the emergence of recent methods of gaining highbrow prestige--that is, new methods of gaining a point of cultural acceptance. via prolonged readings of works through Henry James, William Dean Howells, Abraham Cahan, and Edith Wharton, Barrish emphasizes the variations among realist modes of cultural authority and people linked to the increase of the social sciences.
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In Harper’s Weekly, Howells voices a suspicion that “the general reader does not . . ”16 The general reader, Howells explains, probably does not see any diﬀerence between, on the one hand, those sloppy, heavy-handed gestures toward colloquial speech associated with humorous newspaper ﬁgures such as Artemus Ward and Petroleum V. 17 Like Matthew Arnold’s cultural philistines, the general reader, in Howells’s words, may be “numerically . . ”19 Howells’s review columns, especially in the mid-to-late s, sometimes suggest that the use of dialect in regionalist literature oﬀers to discerning American readers the opportunity to claim special forms of intellectual prestige more encompassing even than that he accords to middle-class authors of regionalist literature, in particular some of the women regionalist writers whose careers and work he himself promoted.
For Howells, developing an aesthetic liking for the sort of “rawness” that the Laphams personify is by no means incompatible with other prestigious taste preferences, including several that fall on the side of “high culture” in a period increasingly concerned with separating high and low as part of demarcating lines of cultural authority. Howells certainly approves the Coreys’ preference for the correct kinds of architecture – architecture that shows classic “Italianate” inﬂuences, such as “slender, ﬂuted columns” and delicately molded cornices (the Corey’s own house is designed “in perfect taste”) (pp.
But during the ﬁnal decades of the nineteenth century Shakespeare started to be made into “a literary classic,” whose plays were more appropriately read in good editions than watched in theaters. 29 In The Rise of Silas Lapham, Howells has Irene tell Tom that she is “perfectly crazy” about Shakespeare and then ask him, “Weren’t you perfectly astonished when you found out how many other plays of his there were? I always thought there was nothing but ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Richard III’ and ‘King Lear’ and that one American Literary Realism that Robeson and Crane have” (p.
American literary realism by Phillip Barrish