Image of William Dean Howells


Lifetime: 1837 - 1920 Passed: ≈ 104 years ago


American Realist Novelist, Literary Critic


United States

William Dean Howells

William Dean Howells was an American realist novelist, literary critic, and playwright, nicknamed "The Dean of American Letters". He was particularly known for his tenure as editor of The Atlantic Monthly, as well as for his own prolific writings, including the Christmas story "Christmas Every Day" and the novels The Rise of Silas Lapham and A Traveler from Altruria.  

William Dean Howells was born on March 1, 1837, in Martinsville, Ohio (now known as Martins Ferry, Ohio), to William Cooper Howells and Mary Dean Howells, the second of eight children.  He began at an early age to help his father with typesetting and printing work, a job known at the time as a printer's devil. In 1852, his father arranged to have one of his poems published in the Ohio State Journal without telling him.  


In 1856, Howells was elected as a clerk in the State House of Representatives. In 1858, he began to work at the Ohio State Journal where he wrote poetry and short stories, and also translated pieces from French, Spanish, and German.  


The Howells returned to America in 1865 and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He wrote for various magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly and Harper's Magazine. In January 1866, James Fields offered him a position as assistant editor at The Atlantic Monthly; he accepted after successfully negotiating for a higher salary, though he was frustrated by Fields' close supervision.  


Howells was made editor in 1871, after five years as assistant editor, and he remained in this position until 1881. In 1869, he met Mark Twain with whom he formed a longtime friendship. But his relationship with journalist Jonathan Baxter Harrison was more important for the development of his literary style and his advocacy of Realism. Harrison wrote a series of articles for The Atlantic Monthly during the 1870s on the lives of ordinary Americans. Howells gave a series of twelve lectures on "Italian Poets of Our Century" for the Lowell Institute during its 1870-71 season.  


In February 1910, Elinor Howells began using morphine to treat her worsening neuritis. She died on May 6, a few days after her birthday, and only two weeks after the death of Howells's friend Mark Twain. Henry James offered his condolences, writing, "I think of this laceration of your life with an infinite sense of all it will mean for you". Howells and his daughter Mildred decided to spend part of the year in their Cambridge home on Concord Avenue; though, without Elinor, they found it "dreadful in its ghostliness and ghastliness".  


Howells died in his sleep shortly after midnight on May 11, 1920, and was buried in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eight years later his daughter published his correspondence as a biography of his literary life. 

Books by William Dean Howells

Indian Summer Cover image

Indian Summer

Fiction Novel
Weather Seasons Age India

Indian Summer is an 1886 novel by William Dean Howells. Though it was published after The Rise of Silas Lapham, it was written before The Rise of Silas Lapham. The setting for this novel was inspired by a trip Howells had recently taken with his fami...

Heroines of Fiction  Cover image

Heroines of Fiction

19th century Nature Literature Short Works

This two-volume work includes heroines from the works of Eliot, Trollope, Hardy, Harte, Austen, Edgeworth, Scott, Dickens, Hawthorne, E. Bronte, Thackeray, and others. These studies of nineteenth-century literature were by a critical light of the tim...

Christmas Every Day and Other Stories Told for Children  Cover image

Christmas Every Day and Other Stories Told for Children

Fiction Novel
Christmas Children Literature Culture Childhood Heritage Short Works

The little girl came into her papa's study, as she always did Saturday morning before breakfast, and asked for a story. He tried to beg off that morning, for he was very busy, but she would not let him.

A Little Swiss Sojourn  Cover image

A Little Swiss Sojourn

Non-Fiction Travel
Family Travelling Geography England Architecture Scenery

A charming brief account of a two months' autumnal stay on the shores of the Lake of Geneva. Howells, who was there with his family traveling from England to Italy, has a sharp eye not only for scenery and architecture, but for people and customs, bo...

The Rise of Silas Lapham  Cover image

The Rise of Silas Lapham

Fiction Novel
Family Marriage Realism Moral America Wealth United States General Fiction

The Rise of Silas Lapham is a realist novel by William Dean Howells published in 1885. The story follows the materialistic rise of Silas Lapham from rags to riches, and his ensuing moral susceptibility. Silas earns a fortune in the paint business, bu...

Venetian Life Cover image

Venetian Life

History Travel
Tradition Exploration Culture Art Society Customs Experiences Architecture Travelogue Venice

Immerse yourself in the enchanting world of Venetian Life, as William Dean Howells invites you to explore the captivating secrets and vibrant culture of Venice. Venetian Life by William Dean Howells is a mesmerizing travelogue that transports readers...

My Mark Twain Cover image

My Mark Twain

William Dean Howells (1837-1920) became fast friends with Mark Twain from the moment in 1869 when Twain strode into the office of The Atlantic Monthly in Boston to thank Howell, then its assistant editor, for his favorable review of Innocents Abroad....

Five O'Clock Tea Cover image

Five O'Clock Tea

A light-hearted romantic comedy in twelve short scenes, set during a tea party in the home of Mrs. Amy Somers, a widow who is courted by the ingenuous and delightful Mr. Willis Campbell. (Summary by Ruth Golding) CAST: Narrator: Kim Stich Mr. Willis...

Annie Kilburn Cover image

Annie Kilburn

After 11 years in Rome, Annie Kilburn returns home to the US after the death of her father. But the home she knew is dramatically changed in many ways. She starts to work with sick children, and finds herself attached to them, and to the minister who...

Coast of Bohemia Cover image

Coast of Bohemia

William Dean Howells is at his iconoclastic best in this exploration of bourgeois values, particularly in the clash between respectable society and the dubious bohemian world of Art and Poetry. Cornelia Saunders has everything going for her in her m...

Hazard of New Fortunes Cover image

Hazard of New Fortunes

Howell’s novel is set in New York of the late nineteenth century, a city familiar to readers of Edith Wharton and Henry James. Basil March, a businessman from Boston of a literary bent, moves with his family to New York to edit a new journal founded...

Traveller from Altruria Cover image

Traveller from Altruria

Set in the early 1890s, at a fashionable summer resort somewhere on the East Coast of the United States, this book tells the story of Mr. Twelvemough, an author who has been selected to function as host to a visitor from the faraway island of Altrur...

rencontre Cover image


Kitty Ellison, orpheline vit avec la famille de son oncle dans l'Etat de New York. En voyage, sur le bateau à vapeur quittant le Québec pour remonter le Saguenay, elle fait la connaissance de l'aristocrate Miles Arbuton de Boston. Il s'éprend de la j...

Hope Cover image


LibriVox volunteers bring you 16 recordings of Hope by William Dean Howells. This was the Weekly Poetry project for July 7, 2019. ------ A short, vivid seafaring poem that holds out hope for an afterlife, wonderfully crafted by William Dean Howel...