Kingwood College Library
Assignment Guide for

The Rise of Silas Lapham 
 William Dean Howells

Born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, March 1, 1837
Died in New York, New York, on May 11, 1920

Known as the “dean of American letters,” Howells is largely responsible for the dominance of the realistic school of writing in modern American literature.

BOOKS          DATABASES          INTERNET          SUPPORT

Beginnings   William Dean Howells was a self-taught author who started writing for newspapers.  His first published works were poems: "Old Winter, Loose Thy Hold On Us"; "Poems of Two Friends".  His works appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Saturday Press and the Cincinnati Dial.

Traveling Most of Howells education was through traveling, including a tour of New England and Canadian factories which eventually developed into a literary pilgrimage of New England.  Later, he traveled to Venice as the United States consul.  After the Civil War, he returned to America and pursued a career as a full-time author.

His experiences in Italy became background material for several travel books and essays on Italy and Italian poets.

In the decade from 1881 to 1891, Howells wrote what many critics consider his best works:

  A Modern Instance 
    Indian Summer
    The Rise of Silas Lapham
    Annie Kilburn
    A Hazard of New Fortunes
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More Biographical Information
Dictionary of Literary Biography (DLB),  PN 41 .D5 - V. 12, 64, 74, 79 and 189 all have information about Howells' life and his work, but for this novel you will probably use vol. 12 which describes American Realists and Naturalists.

Twentieth Century Literary Criticism (TCLC)  PN771 .G27 - V. 7, 17 and 41 include biographical information as well as excerpts from critical essays discussing Howells’ work.  In order to find specific pages on The Rise of Silas Lapham  in this source, use the Title Index for TCLC.  Under The Rise of Silas Lapham, each volume and the page numbers for information on this work will be listed.

Historical Background -Between the ending of the Civil War in 1865 and the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the United States underwent major changes.  Immigration caused an elemental change in what had been  predominantly a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant population.  Business became the primary concern of the nation, and the industrial leaders were the real  power in the country.  A series of ineffectual Presidents made the federal government a minor influence in the citizens' lives.  The literary romantics gave way to the realists who felt that everyday life should be depicted with its social injustices, its morality or lack of it, its class distinctions, and its “culture of consumption."

Every writer is influenced by the time in which he lives.  Listed below are some books in the Kingwood College Library that give background information on Howells and The Rise of Silas Lapham.

    Realism and Naturalism in Nineteenth-Century American Literature - PS214 .P5
    The Cambridge Companion to American Realism and Naturalism - PS374 .N29

Business Ethics:
  Essentials of Business Ethics - HF5387 .E75
   The Businessman in American Literature - PS173 .B87 W3

  The Calvinist Roots of the Modern Era - PS228 .C34 C35

Howells’ place in America literature:
 The Great Tradition: An Interpretation of American Literature Since the Civil War - PS214 .H5

Information On The Novel –  Howells believed the novel could be a primary influence on the reader’s desire to initiate social change and that the realistic novel offered a reader an experiential reference that could germinate into ideas for social change.  Much of his writing reflects his disdain for the sentimental style of literature so popular at the time he wrote. How has he attempted to do this in The Rise of Silas Lapham?  In the realistic novel, Howells believed he should supply information to aid the reader in picturing the story, but the author should not intrude his own ideas.  He uses other devices to provide commentary on issues raised in the book.  Who or what are some of these devices? Howells used speech or language that echoed the realistic style of speech heard on the street or in everyday life.  This was another way Howells tried to distance his work from other novels of the time. What are some examples of this realistic speech?

Use the following reference books and the Twentieth Century Literary Criticism mentioned above to find background information about Silas Lapham as well as critical information from experts in literature.  This will help you begin thinking about what direction you will take to discuss the novel.

Magill's Survey of American Literature - REF PS21 .M34 v.3, p. 932-42 - a brief essay on Howells' life and an essay on several of his major works provide readers with a summary and major points about the novel.
Identities and Issues in Literature - REF PS153 .M56 I34 - a three volume set that examines literature from the view of major themes.  Silas Lapham is discussed with a view toward “class and identity” and “masculinity and the masculine mystique.”
American Writers - REF PS129 .A55, v.II - brief article on Howells' life and his work.
Masterplots - REF PN44 .M53, v.10 - a short summary of the plot.

Use the library catalog to search for other books containing critical essays about Howells’ novels and specifically Silas Lapham.  Several very good books containing critical essays have been placed on reserve at the Circulation Desk.

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DATABASES - Use databases to find critical analysis of Silas Lapham in scholarly literary journals. Library bar code needed for login.

Literature Resource Center   This literary database contains articles from some of the reference works shown above as well as analysis of Howells’ work.  Searching by author’s name will pull up everything on Howells.  From this page, you may use the links shown to “Launch a search for current journal articles.”  This method of searching is not perfect as it pulls up articles on any of Howells’ literature. However, a quick scan of the titles will show you which ones are helpful for this paper.

MLA (Modern Language Association)  This is an index of literary criticism (some full text) to essays in scholarly journals and books.  It is part of Literature Resource Center.  Use with microfiche located in the library.

ProQuest   This database contains articles from over 1900 magazines, journals, and newspapers.  In order to find articles from scholarly literary journals, click the “Peer Reviewed” box on the search page.  Use both the Current two years and the Backfile when searching for literary criticism.  When you search for articles on the novel, use the title, author, and add the keyword "criticism."  Many of the articles you  find in this database will be full text .

Academic Search Premier   Use the advanced search screen and limit to “Peer Reviewed” in order to find articles from scholarly literary journals.

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INTERNET - Use the Internet with caution. Look for sites of a scholarly or academic level for research in literature.  The following Internet sites have been reviewed and are appropriate for research on Howells and The Rise of Silas Lapham.

William Dean Howells    A good site presented by Donna Campbell, faculty member at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Take a look at the selected bibliography and reading questions for The Rise of Silas Lapham.  The links to other sites are useful, too.

The novel is available online at:     The Rise of Silas Lapham

Photos from Dictionary of Literary Biography, v.12, and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism, v. 41.

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MLA citation style guide  for your works cited page.  Helpful examples of citations from many types of resources.

The Learning Center , formerly Academic Support Center. Check the hours of the Learning Center for help with your paper or in-house tutoring.  Remember, your instructor is the final authority on the content and form of your paper.

Bettye Sutton and Becky Bradley, Kingwood College Library, 7/10/2001; updated11/6/2002