Title page for ETD etd-04222008-002122

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Fellers, Thomas J
Author's Email Address tfellers@vt.edu
URN etd-04222008-002122
Title The Novel of Business and the Business of the Novel: W.D. Howells' Examination of Prosperity Archetypes
Degree Master of Arts
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Sorrentino, Paul M. Committee Chair
Oehlschlaeger, Fritz H. Committee Member
Stahl, John D. Committee Member
  • competitive capitalism
  • self-made man
  • architecture
  • realism
Date of Defense 2008-04-18
Availability unrestricted
This thesis examines William Dean Howells' two most notable novels of business, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), suggesting that the business of literature, in its dissemination of success myths and its ultimate internalization of these myths, was complicit in America's industrial strife during the 1880s. Both novels operate meta-critically.

In Silas Lapham, for instance, Howells dramatizes several unhealthy business behaviors that derive from prosperity tropes found in newspapers and other popular writings. In this novel, the focus is on the ways these tropes affect the individual - both the reader who consumes them and the writer who must produce them. Meanwhile, Hazard explores the effects of these myths within the industry of literary production, showing how the publishers themselves are susceptible to the same romanticized economic ideals they disseminate.

These novels do not correct the problematic behaviors that popular writing likely had a role in inspiring. They certainly do not resolve the seemingly contradictory values within the publishing industry. But Silas Lapham and Hazard generate a clearer picture of the complex relationship between literature and business, in a time punctuated by literary disputes between realists and romantics, and violent strikes between the labor class and the capital class.

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