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A Chance Acquaintance   By: (1837-1920)

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A Chance Acquaintance by William Dean Howells is a captivating novel that explores the complexities of human relationships and the unpredictability of fate. Set in the vibrant city of Boston during the late 19th century, the story follows the lives of two seemingly ordinary individuals, whose chance encounter leads to a profound and transformative friendship.

The plot revolves around the lives of Marcia Gaylord, a young and spirited woman, and of Bartley Hubbard, an aspiring writer with a morally questionable past. Their initial meeting takes place aboard a steamboat, where Marcia's intellect and charm immediately captivate Bartley. Despite their contrasting backgrounds and social status, the novel delves into the gradual development of their connection, highlighting their shared interests and mutual attraction.

As the story progresses, Howells skillfully presents a realistic portrayal of the complexities of human nature and the impact of societal expectations on personal relationships. The author delves into the inevitable consequences of their friendship, as Bartley becomes torn between his feelings for Marcia and his desire for a successful literary career. Moreover, Howells confronts themes of love, loyalty, and ambition, expertly weaving them into the fabric of the narrative.

One of the novel's strengths lies in Howells' ability to create multidimensional characters. Marcia is characterized as a fiercely independent and intelligent young woman, defying the societal norms of her time. In contrast, Bartley's flawed and morally ambiguous nature adds depth to his character, making him a compelling and relatable protagonist. Howells' intricate portrayal of their emotions and motivations draws readers into the story, evoking both empathy and investment in their personal journeys.

Moreover, Howells masterfully provides readers with a vivid depiction of late 19th-century Boston society. Through his elegant prose and attention to detail, he recreates the vibrant atmosphere of the city, depicting the bustling streets, grand houses, and fashionable salons. Furthermore, Howells' keen social observations shed light on the societal norms and expectations that restrain the characters, thus exploring themes of class, gender, and morality.

While A Chance Acquaintance is primarily a character-driven novel, the plot is compelling and engaging, maintaining a steady pace throughout. Howells navigates the intricate webs of Marcia and Bartley's lives, skillfully building suspense and anticipation as their paths converge and diverge. The unexpected twists and turns in the narrative keep readers intrigued, ultimately leading to a satisfying and thought-provoking resolution.

In conclusion, A Chance Acquaintance stands as a testament to William Dean Howells' literary prowess. This novel expertly explores the complexities of human relationships, delving into themes of love, ambition, and societal expectations. Through well-developed characters and a captivating plot, Howells invites readers to reflect on the intricate nature of human connections and the role of chance in shaping our lives. A Chance Acquaintance is a timeless tale that continues to resonate with readers, showcasing Howells' enduring legacy as a masterful storyteller.

First Page:

A Chance Acquaintance.



Late Ticknor & Fields, and Fields, Osgood, & Co.


University Press: Welch, Bigelow, & Co., Cambridge.




On the forward promenade of the Saguenay boat which had been advertised to leave Quebec at seven o'clock on Tuesday morning, Miss Kitty Ellison sat tranquilly expectant of the joys which its departure should bring, and tolerantly patient of its delay; for if all the Saguenay had not been in promise, she would have thought it the greatest happiness just to have that prospect of the St. Lawrence and Quebec. The sun shone with a warm yellow light on the Upper Town, with its girdle of gray wall, and on the red flag that drowsed above the citadel, and was a friendly lustre on the tinned roofs of the Lower Town; while away off to the south and east and west wandered the purple hills and the farmlit plains in such dewy shadow and effulgence as would have been enough to make the heaviest heart glad. Near at hand the river was busy with every kind of craft, and in the distance was mysterious with silvery vapors; little breaths of haze, like an ethereal colorless flame, exhaled from its surface, and it all glowed with a lovely inner radiance... Continue reading book >>

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