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The Man of Letters as a Man of Business   By: (1837-1920)

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In "The Man of Letters as a Man of Business," William Dean Howells delves into the intriguing life of an author torn between his creative pursuits and the practical demands of the publishing industry. Written in the late 19th century, this non-fiction work provides a captivating insight into the challenges faced by writers during a transformative period in American literature.

Howells, himself an esteemed novelist and editor, takes a critical yet empathetic stance as he explores the contrast between the idealistic role of a writer and the economic realities of commercial publishing. Through a series of thought-provoking essays, he delves into the intrinsic tension between art and commerce, grappling with the notion of whether it is possible for a writer to thrive creatively while also navigating the demands of a profit-driven industry.

One of the strengths of Howells' book lies in his ability to merge personal anecdotes with astute observation, resulting in a rich and authentic portrayal of the struggles faced by authors in the late 19th century. His experiences as both a writer and editor lend authenticity to his arguments, making his observations particularly compelling. He offers a candid examination of the trials faced by authors seeking financial stability, often compromising their artistic integrity to conform to the market's demands.

Moreover, Howells highlights the changing dynamics of the publishing industry during his time. He familiarizes readers with the perils of poorly managed publishing houses, exploitative contracts, and the lack of copyright protections, outlining the many obstacles writers encountered on their path to success. While his focus is primarily on American literature, his insights resonate with writers across the globe, making this work relevant even in contemporary times.

Throughout the book, Howells champions the notion of "serious literature" and advocates for authors to be recognized as professionals deserving of fair compensation. He underscores the importance of quality literature in shaping society and appeals for a more equitable relationship between publishers and writers. His arguments are eloquently presented, supported by careful research and a deep understanding of the literary landscape.

In "The Man of Letters as a Man of Business," William Dean Howells offers a compelling analysis of the complex intersection between art and commerce in the world of literature. His nuanced exploration of the challenges faced by writers makes this book an essential read for anyone interested in the history of literature or the evolving role of authors. Howells' ability to balance personal anecdotes with critical examination creates a captivating narrative that leaves readers reflecting on the delicate dance between creative passion and pragmatic necessities.

First Page:



William Dean Howells

I think that every man ought to work for his living, without exception, and that when he has once avouched his willingness to work, society should provide him with work and warrant him a living. I do not think any man ought to live by an art. A man's art should be his privilege, when he has proven his fitness to exercise it, and has otherwise earned his daily bread; and its results should be free to all. There is an instinctive sense of this, even in the midst of the grotesque confusion of our economic being; people feel that there is something profane, something impious, in taking money for a picture, or a poem, or a statue. Most of all, the artist himself feels this. He puts on a bold front with the world, to be sure, and brazens it out as Business; but he knows very well that there is something false and vulgar in it; and that the work which cannot be truly priced in money cannot be truly paid in money. He can, of course, say that the priest takes money for reading the marriage service, for christening the new born babe, and for saying the last office for the dead; that the physician sells healing; that justice itself is paid for; and that he is merely a party to the thing that is and must be. He can say that, as the thing is, unless he sells his art he cannot live, that society will leave him to starve if he does not hit its fancy in a picture, or a poem, or a statue; and all this is bitterly true... Continue reading book >>

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