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William Dean Howells and the American Memory Crisis By Lance Rubin ...

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William Dean Howells and the American Memory Crisis

Introduction

Remembering and Forgetting (in) William Dean Howells

I am working every day at the autobiog[raphy], with a general feeling that it is truck…I find largely that Tolstoy was right when in trying to furnish reminiscences for his biographer he declared that remembering was Hell: with the little brave and good you recall so much bad and base. However, I shall push on and get it all down, and then cut, cut, cut until I make myself a respectable figure.

—William Dean Howells, letter in 1914

The full literary and cultural achievements of William Dean Howells are likely to remain ignored, undervalued, and misunderstood as long as two aspects of his work are left out of critical estimation: his critique of (and participation in) the struggle to define a collective memory in late nineteenth/early twentieth-century America, and the role of his often experimental later work—particularly the all-but-forgotten short stories—in evaluating the literary realism with which he is inexorably associated.