- Struggling Upward: The Minister’s Charge and A Cool Million
john graham is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Colorado.
1. Nathanael West to Josephine Herbst, May 31, 1932, Quoted in David G. Galloway, “A Picaresque Apprenticeship: Nathanael West’s The Dream Life of Balso Snell and A Cool Million”, Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, 5 (1964), 118.
2. Jay Martin, Nathanael West: The Art of His Life (New York, 1970), 235.
3. After publication of A Cool Million, West estimated that royalties from his three novels totaled $780. Published by Covici-Friede in an edition of 3,000 copies, A Cool Million was remaindered. Martin, 244–7.
4. Ibid., 228.
5. The Complete Works of Nathanael West, ed. Alan Ross (New York, 1957), 149. Succeeding page references to A Cool Million are to this edition and are incorporated into the text.
6. Frank Luther Mott, Golden Multitudes (New York, 1947), 158–9. Not only may Mott’s figures be regarded as conservative, but it may also be estimated that Alger’s novels each found an average of three readers. On Alger, see R. Richard Wohl, “The ‘Rags to Riches Story’: An Episode of Secular Idealism”, in Reinhard Bendix and Seymour Martin Lipset, eds., Class, Status, and Power: Social Stratification in Comparative Perspective, 2nd ed. (New York, 1966), 503. See also Wohl’s excellent monograph, “The ‘Country Boy’ Myth and Its Place in American Urban Culture: The Nineteenth Century Contribution”, Perspectives in American History, 3 (1969), passim.
7. These are census figures given in David Kinley, “The Movement of Population from Country to City”, Cyclopedia of American Agriculture, ed. L. H. Bailey (New York, 1909), II, 113–5. Cited by Wohl, “The ‘Country Boy’ Myth”, 94. Wohl notes that these figures reflect “a downward bias in reporting the number of the urban population within any one decade” and “an upward bias in reporting the rate of urbanization in a given decade.” When every allowance is made for built-in error, however, the rate of urbanization remains dramatic.
8. Wohl, “The ‘Country Boy’ Myth”, 92.
9. Alger’s fictional response to Brace’s plan was characteristically superficial. In his Preface to Julius or The Street Boy Out West, Alger writes: “in the preparation of this volume, I am indebted, for valuable information, to an instructive volume by Charles L. Brace, the devoted Secretary of the Children’s Aid Society, entitled ‘The Dangerous Classes of Society.’” Alger gives little hint of the extremity of the prevailing conditions in New York, and his tale of a city boy making good in the country is no more than a simple reversal of his standard formula. Strive and Succeed: Two Novels by Horatio Alger, ed. S. N. Behrman (New York, 1967).
10. Wohl, “The ‘Rags to Riches Story,’” pp. 502–3. Harold J. Laski, The American Democracy (New York, 1948), pp. 266, 622, 659; David McCord Wright, Capitalism (New York, 1951), p. 66. Cited by Wohl. In his Introduction to The Rise of Silas Lapham, Edwin H. Cady underlines the importance of the Alger tradition at this point in Howells’ career: “In the broadest sense, The Rise of Silas Lapham is deliberately plotted as an antidote against the falsity of the Horatio Alger tradition in literature. Silas begins his fictional existence as a millionaire, and his ‘rise’ ironically denies Horatio Algerism. Only by losing his fortune and sacrificing his worldly pride for righteousness’ sake can Silas rise. His moral success is his worldly failure.” The Rise of Silas Lapham (Boston, 1957), p. vi.
11. Olov W. Fryckstedt, In Quest of America: A Study of Howells’ Early Development as a Novelist (Stockholm, 1958), 193–5. For an excellent account of Howells’ novelistic shift from individual to social concerns, see Fryckstedt, 192–211.
12. Ibid., 197.
13. Ibid., 194–5; Louis J. Budd, “Howells, the Atlantic Monthly, and Republicanism”, American Literature, 24 (May 1952), 152.
14. William Dean Howells to James R. Osgood, May 12, 1884. Life in Letters of William Dean Howells, ed. Mildred Howells (New York, 1928), I, 361.
16. William Dean Howells, The Minister’s Charge; Or, The Apprenticeship of Lemuel Barker (Boston: Ticknor...