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Literary Boston as I Knew It (from Literary Friends and Acquaintance)   By: (1837-1920)

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Literary Boston as I Knew It is an intriguing and insightful collection of essays by William Dean Howells. With his sharp eye for detail and his deep love for the literary world, Howells offers readers an intimate glimpse into the vibrant literary scene of 19th century Boston.

Divided into various chapters, each focusing on different aspects of the city's literary life, Howells delves into the lives and works of renowned authors, poets, and intellectuals he had the pleasure of knowing personally. Through his vivid descriptions, readers are transported to the salons and gathering places where these literary figures congregated. From the bustling streets of Boston to the tranquil haven of Concord, Howells carefully navigates the iconic landmarks, giving readers a sense of the energy and inspiration that thrived within them.

What sets this book apart is Howells' remarkable ability to capture the essence of each writer he encounters. Whether it's his warm portrayal of Ralph Waldo Emerson's wise presence or his perceptive description of Henry David Thoreau's simple yet profound lifestyle, Howells brings these literary luminaries to life on the pages. As he recounts casual conversations and intellectual debates, readers can almost hear the clinking of glasses and the crackling of ideas in the air.

Beyond the individuals, Howells also offers valuable discussions on the literary movements and trends that defined the era. He explores the rise of transcendentalism and its impact on the works of famous authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott. He examines the influence of the Atlantic Monthly, a prominent literary magazine of the time, in shaping the literary landscape of Boston. Through these analyses, readers gain a deeper understanding of the literary climate in which these authors thrived.

Additionally, Howells provides a unique perspective on the intertwined relationship between literature and society. He analyzes how the city's elite circles shaped and were shaped by the literature produced during that period. Howells does not shy away from addressing the societal challenges faced by writers, such as the ongoing tension between the pursuit of artistic integrity and the demands of commercial success. Through his observations, he presents a nuanced exploration of the interplay between art and commerce, sovereignty and compromise.

While this book is a treasure trove of historical information and personal anecdotes, it may feel dense for readers unfamiliar with the specific writers and literary movements of the time. Moreover, Howells' style, though precise and evocative, may at times feel somewhat dated to contemporary readers. However, for those passionate about American literature or intrigued by the cultural and intellectual history of Boston, Literary Boston as I Knew It offers a captivating journey through the vibrant literary world of the 19th century. Filled with captivating stories, insightful analysis, and an affectionate portrayal of the literary figures of the time, it is a valuable addition to any bibliophile's collection.

First Page:


by William Dean Howells


Among my fellow passengers on the train from New York to Boston, when I went to begin my work there in 1866, as the assistant editor of the Atlantic Monthly, was the late Samuel Bowles, of the Springfield Republican, who created in a subordinate city a journal of metropolitan importance. I had met him in Venice several years earlier, when he was suffering from the cruel insomnia which had followed his overwork on that newspaper, and when he told me that he was sleeping scarcely more than one hour out of the twenty four. His worn face attested the misery which this must have been, and which lasted in some measure while he lived, though I believe that rest and travel relieved him in his later years. He was always a man of cordial friendliness, and he now expressed a most gratifying interest when I told him what I was going to do in Boston. He gave himself the pleasure of descanting upon the dramatic quality of the fact that a young newspaper man from Ohio was about to share in the destinies of the great literary periodical of New England.


I do not think that such a fact would now move the fancy of the liveliest newspaper man, so much has the West since returned upon the East in a refluent wave of authorship... Continue reading book >>

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