By Phillip Barrish
Targeting key works of late-nineteenth and early- twentieth-century American literary realism, Phillip Barrish strains the emergence of recent methods of gaining highbrow prestige--that is, new methods of gaining some extent of cultural attractiveness. via prolonged readings of works by means of Henry James, William Dean Howells, Abraham Cahan, and Edith Wharton, Barrish emphasizes the diversities among realist modes of cultural authority and people linked to the increase of the social sciences.
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Howells admits that, like most successful late nineteenth-century Americans, he takes advantage of an unfair, unequal system and lives in all the luxury his money can buy. But, the quoted passage implicitly continues, I clear-eyedly recognize how my fur-lined overcoat and other consumer luxuries are possible only because of my participation in a set of sickeningly unjust socioeconomic arrangements. Not only do I recognize that truth, but I have the good taste to set up an ironic juxtaposition that underlines the discrepancy between what I profess and what I practice.
In referring to her father by the Civil War title that he prides himself on – “the Colonel” – Penelope is playfully citing an especially characteristic example of Silas’s speech. This sort of aﬀectionate citation constitutes the relation to Laphamesque vernacular that Pen develops throughout the book. Not long after this scene, Penelope responds to her sister and mother’s nervous excitement about a visit from Tom with, “I don’t see any p’ints about that frog that’s any better than any other frog” (p.
16 The general reader, Howells explains, probably does not see any diﬀerence between, on the one hand, those sloppy, heavy-handed gestures toward colloquial speech associated with humorous newspaper ﬁgures such as Artemus Ward and Petroleum V. 17 Like Matthew Arnold’s cultural philistines, the general reader, in Howells’s words, may be “numerically . . ”19 Howells’s review columns, especially in the mid-to-late s, sometimes suggest that the use of dialect in regionalist literature oﬀers to discerning American readers the opportunity to claim special forms of intellectual prestige more encompassing even than that he accords to middle-class authors of regionalist literature, in particular some of the women regionalist writers whose careers and work he himself promoted.
American literary realism by Phillip Barrish