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Downwardly MobileThe Changing Fortunes of American Realism$
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Andrew Lawson

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199828050

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199828050.001.0001

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The Artist of the Floating World: William Dean Howells

The Artist of the Floating World: William Dean Howells

(p.62) 4 The Artist of the Floating World: William Dean Howells
Downwardly Mobile

Andrew Lawson

Oxford University Press

This chapter describes Howells’s early life on the Ohio frontier in a lower-middle-class family destabilized by his father’s repeated business failures. It shows how this experience left Howells with lasting fears of falling and of drowning. The chapter traces the economic and psychological meanings of the recurring tropes of buoyancy and drowning in Howells’s early work, from Venetian Life (1866) to A Modern Instance (1882). It argues that Howells’s obsession with contingency and chance derives from his experience of the floating world of antebellum capitalism: an experience he draws on in order to resist the sense of entitlement and privilege of the Boston Brahmin class he joined.

Keywords:   hydrophobia, vertigo, contingency, ohio, picturesque, boston brahmin

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