The Rise of Silas Lapham

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9780451528223: The Rise of Silas Lapham

“Let fiction cease to lie about life; let it portray men and women as they are, actuated by the motives and the passions in the measure we all know.”—William Dean Howells

The Rise of Silas Lapham, first published in book form in 1885, was the first important novel to center on the American businessman and the first to treat its theme with a realism that was to foreshadow the work of modern writers. In his story of Silas Lapham—one of the millionaires who flourished with the expanding industrialization of the post-Civil War years—William Dean Howells probed the moral and social conflicts that confronted a self-made man who attempted to crash Boston’s old-guard, aristocratic society. Silas Lapham is a man of conscience who fully realizes his folly. But he is also an ambitious man who knowingly lets his aspirations lead him to hazard both his fortune and his family’s happiness for status in a society that can never accept him. “His perceptions were sure, his integrity was absolute,” wrote Henry Seidel Canby of William Dean Howells, whom he credited as being “responsible for giving the American novel form.”

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From the Publisher:

The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) is Howell’s best-known work, and this elegant tale of Boston society and manners is rightly regarded as a subtle classic of its time. Silas Lapham inherits his father’s paint business, from which he makes a great deal of money, and moves his family from rural Vermont to cosmopolitan Boston. Attempting to break into the city’s sophisticated society he becomes bent on the acquisition of both money and social position. Howells contrasts "old" and "new" money, presenting the representatives of both sympathetically and portraying the attempts of the self-made man to break into the world inhabited by those from "established" families with humour and delicacy.

From the Back Cover:

Silas Lapham is a rough-hewn entrepreneur who has made his fortune in mineral paint. Socially ambitious for their daughters, Lapham and his wife encourage the suit of Tom Corey, son of an aristocratic Boston family, whose own parents are appalled by his consorting with vulgar upstarts. But which Lapham girl does Tom really love: the pretty blonde Irene or her bookish sister Penelope? As the romantic confusion is sorted out, Lapham suffers calamities that threaten both his financial and personal integrity. His rise is ultimately a moral one. The first major American novel to centre on a businessman, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) explores the capitalist ethos of the American Gilded Age. It is also a brilliant novel of manners that shows the comic confrontation of old wealth and new riches.

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William Dean Howells
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