William Dean Howells: Short Stories Characters

William Dean Howells: Short Stories Character List

The Little Girl

The Little Girl is an unnamed child is nevertheless one of the most famous characters from the stories of William Dean Howells. The title of the story in which she appears says everything about her. Well almost everything. The little girl who makes the wish for “Christmas Every Day” has her wish granted, but like so many before her, ultimately learns the danger of having wishes come true.


Editha is the title character of her story that, in a way, is also a parable about the consequences of having your wishes come true. In this story for his adult readers, Editha is a young man in love with George. Unfortunately for George, Editha is also in love with romantic fantasies of war heroes. The story is a pointed attempt by Howells—one of the foremost promoters of Realism in American literature—to reveal the unseen dangers of sentimental romantic fiction. Stories of wartime heroism stimulates Editha to push George to enlist and join the patriotic defense of the country in the Spanish-American War. Like the Little Girl, reality intrudes upon her unsophisticated romantic fantasies, but in a notably more harshly realistic manner.

Stephen Langbourne

Langbourne is the young man involved in a bizarre love triangle who comes to finally understand “The Magic of a Voice.” The story begins with Langbourne eavesdropping on Barbara and Juliet in their hotel room from inside his own room. It’s love at first voice for Langbourne who discovers that Barbara was the girl with the voice he can’t get out of his head. After managing to find out who they are and how to contact them, he is rewarded by Barbara with a photograph and is delighted to see for the first time how beautiful the mystery woman is. Only when they finally meet, it turns out as a joke Barbara had sent a picture of the much more attractive Juliet and now Langbourne faces the harsh reality of a wish only partially fulfilled himself. Will he still love the voice or will the pretty face win out?

Geoffrey Winter

“A Dream” is yet another tale of wish-fulfillment gone wrong. Geoffrey, in the fashion of the time, romantically pursues his cousin Clara who promptly rejects him and then compounds the injury by marrying a rival. The ensuing seven years literally haunt Geoffrey in the form of a recurring dream. Moved by this dream, he is moved toward reunion. The meeting not only reveals that she is now widowed, but that the events of his dream were presciently accurate. All signs point to a long-delayed happy ending, but the story ends with the unexpected twist that it is Geoffrey who decides to reject his own fantasy come true.

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