Washington Square

Convention and Realism in Washington Square

Realism, as described by William Dean Howells in the late nineteenth century, replaces the high art and style of the literature of the preceding decades by permitting such characters as Howells' Silas Lapham to have a distinct place in the pantheon of American literary characters. Fervently, Howells invoked the "truth" of the realist genre, writing, "Let it portray men and women as they are, actuated by the motives and the passions in the measure we all know...let it speak the dialect, the language, that most Americans know - the language of unaffected people everywhere'" (Fictions of the Real, 188). This impassioned phrase, apparently invoking the importance of characters such as Silas Lapham, indicates the emergence of a gritty language, an "unaffected" dialect. Such a marker for realism connotes not the stories of Howell or James, but rather the coarse, common language of the masses as found in the pages of Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Howells' call for realism encompasses such literary giants as Henry James, but does not necessarily describe them. Both Howells and James, though utterly invested in "the motives and passions" of the human race, still rely and stylistic and...

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