Don L. Cook, reviewer. William Dean Howells in St. Augustine. Edited, with an essay by William McGuire. Special issue of El Escribano: The St. Augustine Journal of History. Vol. 35, 1998, ix, 121 pp. $14.95 + $2.95 shipping and handling. Available from the St. Augustine Historical Society, 271 Charlotte Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084. ATT: Mike Usina. (904) 824-2872/Fax (094) 824-2569.
This volume of El Escribano consists of three pieces by W. D. Howells plus six drawings by John Mead Howells and a preface and essay by the editor, William McGuire. In addition to the drawings by Howells' son, John, there are reproductions of four photographs, one engraving and two relief portraits of Howells.
In the preface, the editor explains his connection with Howells: Mr. McGuire was born in the same year as Howells' last visit to St. Augustine (1918), and only a block from the Alcazar hotel (built by Mr. McGuire's great-great-uncle) where Howells and his daughter Mildred were staying. Mr. McGuire was unaware of this connection until 1980 when a quotation from Howells' essay "A Confession of St. Augustine" aroused his curiosity. His research eventuated in a thirty-page essay, "Howells the Nomad," which traces Howells' various residences after he left Ohio for Venice. He devotes the last third of the essay to a very detailed account of the hotels and houses that Howells and his daughter occupied during their visits to St. Augustine between 1915 and 1918, and the restaurants they frequented, the movies they saw, or might have seen, and other events of interest in St. Augustine during this period.
The text of Howells' "A Confession of St. Augustine" is reprinted from Harper's Monthly Magazine, April-May 1917. Mr. McGuire says nothing about his editorial method. He does specify that he "found that 1917 volume of Harper's" in the Princeton University Library where he also "came upon his Selected Letters, edited by William M. Gibson and Christoph K. Lohmann." In the sixth volume of the Letters he found the second Howells essay he reprints, "Eighty Years and After." McGuire explains that the "original manuscript is the property of William White Howells who has given permission for the present publication. WDH made extensive changes before the essay was published in Harper's. That and the 1983 version are the basis of the following text." McGuire's "That" is a little ambiguous, but a cursory check of the textual apparatus for the Selected Letters suggests that McGuire's text is the critical text established for the letters volume.
The provenance of the text for "Eighty Years and After" reprinted by McGuire would not matter greatly, since he selected the best critical text available, except that the third Howells item in El Escribano is not a reprint of a critically established text but rather the first published form of The Home-Towners, a lengthy fragment of a novel Howells left unfinished. Mr. McGuire reports that the novel exists in three forms: (A) a forty-one page combination typescript and holograph, (B) a thirty-five page typescript incorporating some of the holography changes in (A), and (C) a third typescript "the same as draft B, with many holograph corrections made apparently by MH (Mildred Howells), the result of proofreading and comparison with draft A. This is the source of the present version." This is all the information McGuire provides about this establishment of the text he prints.
Since the fragment of The Home-Towners is the only item in the volume that is not already in print, it is a shame that it is not accompanied by a critical apparatus that would allow scholars to assess the reliability of the text and study its genesis. Even as a fragment The Home-Towners is an important text for the study of Howells' ideas and style. As his son, John, commented in a letter to Mildred "He read me the first part, up to a lynching. . . . What strikes me is that it is a new treatment of the Modern South. Instead of everlastingly treating the South as if it had only a romantic Civil War atmosphere, it shows the new South in its horrid flat muddy hopeless truth." Howells' handling of a lynching from the point of view of a convalescent northern newspaperman is especially interesting when one remembers that William Faulkner was later to receive the American Academy's Howells Medal for fiction. We are grateful to have the unfinished novel drawn to our attention.