American Literature Association meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, May 27-30, 1999.
Howells Society Business Meeting: Saturday, May 29, from 12:00
to 1:15 in Kent.
2. "Mildred Howells : The Dilemma of the Father's Daughter," Polly Howells, Independent Scholar
In "The Making of 'The Dean of American Letters,'" John W. Crowley discussed Howells's lecture tours of the late 1890s and their role in shaping the author who still signed himself "W. D. Howells" into "The Dean of American Letters." Like the $10,000 a year contract that Howells signed with Harper Brothers in 1900, the lecture tours thrust Howells into the publicity mill of the turn-of-the-century literary marketplace. Although it exacted a personal toll on Howells, for whom "the misery of lecturing was traumatic," the successful six-week lecture tour through the northern midwest that "Major" James B. Pond organized for Howells in the autumn of 1899 marked the emergence of "The Dean." Noting that "one of the earliest . . . appearances of the sobriquet dates from Howells's arrival in Iowa," Crowley commented that "out of the travail of this event 'The Dean' was born."
In "Mildred Howells: The Dilemma of the Father's Daughter," Polly Howells drew from recollections of her great aunt Mildred Howells and psychoanalytic literature by Freud and Jessica Benjamin on the father's daughter to analyze the complex relationship between WDH and Mildred Howells. Noting that William Dean Howells had been only twenty-four when he was appointed U. S. Consul to Venice, Howells quoted a letter that WDH wrote to Mildred when she was nearly twenty-two to show how WDH "endowed his daughter permanently with the childhood he himself had so precipitously left behind." Polly Howells also read an unpublished poem written from WDH to Mildred's childhood friend Lucia Fairchild; the poem shows another, less kindly side of WDH as it illustrates "how deeply identified he was with his younger daughter and her vulnerability, how he idealized her female helplessness." As Howells said to Mildred on his deathbed shortly before he lost consciousness, "[Y]ou are the only member of my family who I have never been separated from."
Photo courtesy of Jim Zwick's Mark Twain site, which has many Howells texts and pictures.
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