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Hazard of New Fortunes

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By: (1837-1920)

Howell’s novel is set in New York of the late nineteenth century, a city familiar to readers of Edith Wharton and Henry James. Basil March, a businessman from Boston of a literary bent, moves with his family to New York to edit a new journal founded by an acquaintance. Its financial support, however, comes from a Mr. Dryfoos, a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer suddenly become millionaire by the discovery of natural gas on his property, and now living in New York with his family in a style he hopes will befit his new wealth.

Is it his new fortune that presents a hazard? Or is it the new wealth of New York City in the Gilded Age? Both March and his literary creator are increasingly aware of some of the social and economic contradictions that beset the city of the time (though some of Howell’s analysis sounds as if it well might fit New York today). Characters such as, among others, Dryfoos’s children, a German socialist immigrant who fought for the Union cause, an impoverished Southern colonel still persuaded that a reformed slavery might work, a young woman drawn from the upper reaches of Old New York society, help to enrich the story and its setting with their differing viewpoints. ( Nicholas Clifford)

First Page:


By William Dean Howells


The following story was the first fruit of my New York life when I began to live it after my quarter of a century in Cambridge and Boston, ending in 1889; and I used my own transition to the commercial metropolis in framing the experience which was wholly that of my supposititious literary adventurer. He was a character whom, with his wife, I have employed in some six or eight other stories, and whom I made as much the hero and heroine of 'Their Wedding Journey' as the slight fable would bear. In venturing out of my adoptive New England, where I had found myself at home with many imaginary friends, I found it natural to ask the company of these familiar acquaintances, but their company was not to be had at once for the asking. When I began speaking of them as Basil and Isabel, in the fashion of 'Their Wedding Journey,' they would not respond with the effect of early middle age which I desired in them. They remained wilfully, not to say woodenly, the young bridal pair of that romance, without the promise of novel functioning... Continue reading book >>

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